Rob Montana has two loves in life: watches and the great outdoors. When this American artisan is not in his Montana-based home workshop creating custom-made leather and canvas watchstraps, you’ll find him traveling, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting, skiing or snowboarding.
What originated as a hobby has now turned into a full-time job for The Strapsmith. As his straps are entirely designed and made manually using only hand tools from start to finish, each creation is unique and carries the artist’s signature.
Born in 1963, Montana was one of six children and his father was a community leather instructor for a small club, so he already had some initial experience in leather growing up. Thereafter, his foray into strap-making began after he discovered the Panerai brand in 1999 (he has since visited the Panerai manufacture).
After a Panerai fan gathering, he considered the possibility of making a great strap because he says he had always found the original straps to be disproportionate to the size of the timepiece. He purchased tools and several how-to books, and proceeded to teach himself how to make the straps.
Labor of love
Having had a passion for watches since he was a child, who dreamt of owning a Rolex one day, strap making proved to be a labor of love. He gave up his day job as a physiotherapist and made the most of his craftsmanship abilities by establishing a strap-making company. Although Montana started making straps five years ago, mastering the craft is an ongoing process, and he continues to refine his skills, still learning every day to perfect his art. He believes that the métier calls for one to “have a passion for watches or leather, and to be self-disciplined and creative, with a willingness to try new things”.
The biggest challenge in strap-making, according to Montana, is finding reliable and consistent leather sources, as well as offering something that no other customer has.
Thus, he has become obsessed with searching out the most effective tools, the best production techniques and the most beautiful raw materials, sourcing leathers from different locations in the United States and Italy, looking while traveling and online, with vintage leathers taking the most time to acquire.
Panerai watch owners have approached him to create straps for their timepieces as an alternative to the conventional bands they usually come with, so making straps for customers of Bell & Ross, IWC, U-Boat, Rolex and Omega then seemed like a natural progression.
Buyers may choose from natural vegetable-tanned, chrome-tanned, oil-tanned or WWI and WWII vintage leathers, Alcantara, jean fabric, and exotic skins like shark, ostrich and even hippo! And be careful where you leave your branded ........ because Montana fearlessly uses the canvas of secondhand bags to make straps out of Gucci or Louis Vuitton monogram or damier canvas.
He has even devised straps out of old shoes, purses, briefcases, jackets, guitar straps, footballs, baseball gloves and saddlebags.
Each detail-—from the lining, stitching, buckle, keepers, texture and color to the design, shape, length, width, thickness, hole placement and finishing—is customizable according to customers’ desires.
“Each strap comes out a little different as sometimes the leather has to be thinned, the hide can vary, and the little handmade quirks you see with something built by hand. I enjoy each one that I make,” he explains.
Though Montana advertises little, he produces close to 1,000 straps per year, or about 20 per week, taking one to two hours per strap, and his business has grown by word-of-mouth. Orders may be placed by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org[/EMAIL], but know exactly what you want first before purchasing. Turnaround time is quick: expect to receive your strap approximately three weeks from the time you order. Prices range from $169 to $229.