Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?
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  1. #1
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    Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    I was looking on the B&S website as I have before and I'd like to try one out. In leather strap terms though, it's kind of an investment. Besides some $60-80 Shell Cordovan straps, I've not experienced a high-end watch strap that's NOT a shell cordovan.

    By most people's accounts, Shell Cordovan is considered tangibly "the best" leather. But as I shop watch straps more, I guess a watchmaker can charge more for a lesser leather if it's finished better? This is where I sometimes have a hard time shopping for watch straps. If you tell me you're using Horween or Shell Cordovan, I can justify the price more in my head. But when you say it's just "vegetable tanned" leather, or some other generic processing term, it's hard to justify these higher prices in my novice mind.

    Looking at Bulang & Sons straps though, they tangibly look different. They have that unique, spongy look. The edges don't look sharply cut and the thickness seems uneven in its entirety. In general, they look like they were cut and shaped sharply, and then dipped in a liquid tanning process and swelled up like a sponge. They have a lot of character but they also don't look very hardy.

    I've heard people consider Hodinkee and W&W straps as over-priced for what they are...does B&S fall in this same category to most?

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    Besides their leather straps like the ones shown above, I also really like the dressy canvas strap they have below:

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    What do you think? Are they worth it compared to the other higher-end sites?


    Other notables I've considered:

    Toshi Straps.....however, I don't like that they don't taper. I also don't like the large buckle holes....I wish he'd make some straps more on the dressy side. His variety is unmatched as far as leathers and color though.

    Bas & Lokes....$140..$150 is just too much imo. I love the look but I'm just not willing to spend that much on a strap right now. Same goes for SNPR, The Strap Smith, Combat Straps....all a tad more then I'm looking to spend.

    I own a few Rios1931, Fluco, Hirsch, and Hadley Roma and I'm not really interested in any of these brands as they look too factory/machine made.
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  2. #2
    Member Karkarov's Avatar
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Okay so I love my leather straps, just as much as my watches. Cost of a strap really comes down to two questions? Do you want something that is bespoke, and do you need real quality for this strap? If the answer to either is no, there is no reason to order from say a Bas and Lokes (who in my opinion are worth every penny of that 140), or a Combat Straps... strap. But what if you want serious quality but not so much the bespoke part? That is where the slope gets slippery.

    First I just want to say this, I have never, and will never, understand why anyone thinks shell cordovan or Horween leather is anything special. Horween leather especially is nothing to write home about, it is just leather. So no, you don't need to be worried at all about the leather used by Bulang and Sons. Look at it this way, there are lots of strap makers out there. Hirsch is a huge one, and their variety of leathers is matched by their variety of prices. Here is an example:

    Hirsch Modena
    Hirsch Knight

    That is a pretty big cost difference. The Modena is 50 dollars, and the Knight is a full 35 dollars more at 85. Is it because of the leather? No, they use the same leather. The cost difference is that the Knight has far more finishing done to it, more complex stitching, and a higher quality lining material. That is also why a Bulang and Sons strap costs so much. Hand stitching, better finishing, specially tanned/colored leathers, leather lining instead of a velvet material, just an overall better made strap using leathers easily on par with shell cordovan or horween. They are simply better made. I own a Bulang and Sons, as well as Rios1931, Hirsch, Panatine, Crown and Buckle, and plenty of others. I will tell you straight up, no strap I paid less than say 80 bucks for even holds a candle to the Bulang. The straps I own that I consider superior all cost as much, or more, than the Bulang straps do.

    So yes, to me it is worth the cost. Again though, it all comes down to those two questions. Someone who loves Nato's, or says "give me a bracelet or give me death" is probably never going to see the value in a 100 dollar leather strap. I also would never consider throwing something at the level of a Bulang strap on a Orient Bambino, or a Seiko SKX. When the strap is worth more than 50% of the watch the value proposition simply isn't there. I will also warn you in case you have big wrists, B&S wants an insane mark up to make custom length straps and their strap in general are very "standard" length. As in if your wrist is over 7.5" I hope you are okay with using the last, or second to last tang punch on the strap.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Quote Originally Posted by Karkarov View Post
    Okay so I love my leather straps, just as much as my watches. Cost of a strap really comes down to two questions? Do you want something that is bespoke, and do you need real quality for this strap? If the answer to either is no, there is no reason to order from say a Bas and Lokes (who in my opinion are worth every penny of that 140), or a Combat Straps... strap. But what if you want serious quality but not so much the bespoke part? That is where the slope gets slippery.
    Thanks for a great reply...while I feel many WIS can live and learn vicariously through other's watch purchases and reviews, its a lot harder when it comes to leather straps.

    I do like the bespoke look. I have a Hirsch Merino strap and frankly, i dont really like its generic factory look. My favorite strap right now though is a Rios1931 cognac colored shell cordovan. I havent tried many custom, handmade straps. I have one on order from an Etsy seller...excited to see how it looks once it is delivred. Only spent $59 so not a big investment.

    I obviously have some mixed thoughts about a "quality leather" being used. Since Ive mostly gone for different Shells, Ive had the "you can't fake steak" mindset. But perhaps experiencing one of these B&S straps, I'll think differently.

    Do you have any favorite bespoke straps in the $50-$100 range? Just not looking to break that $100 barrier yet.
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  5. #4
    Member Karkarov's Avatar
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Quote Originally Posted by Level.5x View Post
    Do you have any favorite bespoke straps in the $50-$100 range? Just not looking to break that $100 barrier yet.
    In all honesty I have never ordered a truly "bespoke" strap for less than 100 dollars. I have ordered some hand made straps from etsy before that were less than that, but beyond length there really wasn't much input on the strap. That said they were great straps and did really well.

    Here is a pic of a strap I got from Buzzard Brain Leatherworks on Etsy -



    You should also check out Vlad straps on Etsy, I have seen some of his straps and they are very good quality for the cost.

    Here is the link to his WUS thread - https://forums.watchuseek.com/f222/my...e-1022527.html

    Oh, also to respond to the Hodinkee/W&W comment. Uh, yeah, Worn and Wound are definitely overpriced. I have owned two of their straps, neither impressed me all that much, and they were no better finished than many 30-40 dollar straps I have used. Hodinkee is also overpriced, but they do make a better quality strap than W&W. I would take a B&S strap over anything either of them make any day of the week. For W&W it is because W&W is just a lesser strap. Hodinkee it is because their straps cost more, but are about the same quality level. Why pay more when everything else is equal?
    Last edited by Karkarov; December 30th, 2016 at 07:09.
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  6. #5
    Member CastorTroy3's Avatar
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Kharkov knows what he is talking about. First I will say I have tried the $35 -$100 bespoke range. Many of these products are in veggie tan leather, embossed, and a few in exotics. Some were even well made. Some came with poor customer service. I do beleive the additional 30-40 is worth it. That being said I haven't used B&S.

    For inexpensive custom these are the people I have used:

    Handmade watch straps - these is what I would call the best mix of quality and customer service at a rock bottom price. I ordered custom veggie tanned straps from here, customer service was good, craftsmanship was good and I would order again. These were under $50 if I recall correctly and I think he may have been from Indonesia or Vietnam.

    I have used straps by Ngyun. https://www.facebook.com/handmade.by.nguyeen. This was the best quality and great exotics. However it is bottom of the barrel on customer service and communication. I think I have a picture of the alligator strap he made for me:



    I have used a few others but couldn't track down there contacts.
    Attached Images Attached Images


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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Quote Originally Posted by Karkarov View Post
    In all honesty I have never ordered a truly "bespoke" strap for less than 100 dollars. I have ordered some hand made straps from etsy before that were less than that, but beyond length there really wasn't much input on the strap. That said they were great straps and did really well.

    Here is a pic of a strap I got from Buzzard Brain Leatherworks on Etsy -



    You should also check out Vlad straps on Etsy, I have seen some of his straps and they are very good quality for the cost.

    Here is the link to his WUS thread - https://forums.watchuseek.com/f222/my...e-1022527.html

    Oh, also to respond to the Hodinkee/W&W comment. Uh, yeah, Worn and Wound are definitely overpriced. I have owned two of their straps, neither impressed me all that much, and they were no better finished than many 30-40 dollar straps I have used. Hodinkee is also overpriced, but they do make a better quality strap than W&W. I would take a B&S strap over anything either of them make any day of the week. For W&W it is because W&W is just a lesser strap. Hodinkee it is because their straps cost more, but are about the same quality level. Why pay more when everything else is equal?
    Funny you mention Buzzard Brain as I have his shop favorited on Etsy and is a strapmaker I'd like to buy from. I love the sturdy, well stitched look of those straps. They seemed a little overprice which is why I haven't bought one yet. I'll probably give him a shot though. That shot you have on the Seiko Alpinist looks awesome!

    I also liked straps from JonesinTokyo. I tried messaging him though about his Horween Derby leather strap and never heard back. I don't know if he just missed my message or just too busy.

    I've not seen Vlad or if I did, I might of just past over them. I'll check those out again. Thanks!
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  8. #7
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    Speaking of leathers...

    The tanning process is sort of an 'embalming', chemical process, to preserve the proteins of the leather. Different processes probably have a different life-span chemically speaking (eg. against exposure to different substances such as water, oils, sweat, dripped food, etc., and other factors like heat and UV), though care of the leather (cleaning and replenishing the oils/waxes lost over time) will likely play a big role.

    However, for the actual physical properties of the leather, probably the question to ask is full-grain, top-grain, how much of the outermost layer has been sanded away, or exactly which layer of the hide are you getting? That isn't always the easiest information to find though. (And I suppose if you are picky, which part of the animal it came from).

    Full-grain leather should be the toughest, being the outermost layer with nothing removed. Depending on the hide it came from though, it may be less 'perfect' looking due to scars, marks/etc. from the original animal's outer skin.

    Corrected top-grain leathers have some of the outermost layer sanded away/re-buffed, for a more 'perfect' look; does come at a bit of a trade-off in toughness, and you really don't know how much of it has been sanded way to get that nice 'perfect' look, especially after a new surface texture has been applied.

    Split-grain... well, you've got something from the underside and not as tough. If it's a suede, then you know what you're getting, but if it's been reprocessed and surface retextured to look like leather (or other animal hide appearance), who knows...

    All these would be considered "genuine" leather, since it all comes from the hide. That said, if someone's using full-grain they'll very likely be advertising that fact (and be upping their prices accordingly). As for "bonded" leathers... well that's like engineered wood products, OSB, MDF, made up of chopped up leather remains bonded back together...

    Shell Cordovan is an entirely different thing and not really a leather, being an inner "skin" layer (technically the hyaline layer, if you want to read more about the biology/histology of it), which in the horse's rump area tends to be unusually thick and tough in comparison to other animals. From what I understand, this makes it very durable, and apparently it holds onto waxes/oils very very well, but it doesn't polish up as shiny as true exterior leathers. Tends to be expensive in comparison to cowhide, because it comes from a smaller area (only the horse's rump area), and not in as much abundance compared to all the cows that come from the food industry.

    All of this is, of course, independent from the craftsmanship that has to go into actually making a product like a watch strap from it, which is not an insignificant part of the cost (of anything handmade!)
    Last edited by Iandk; January 1st, 2017 at 00:18. Reason: Grammar and punctuation, as usual.

  9. #8
    Member CastorTroy3's Avatar
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    ^^^interesting stuff. Now I'm googling horses rump area. Funny wha comes up when I googled that :)


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Google can lead you all sorts of places. :)

    After writing that, I did a bit more reading into Horween, and it seems their tanning process (or at least their Chromexcel process) is a combination of vegetable tan and chrome tan.

    Vegetable tanning tends to create a stiffer more durable leather, though not as resistant to water and heat. Also takes much longer to do, but with less nasty chemicals than chrome tanning. Chrome tanning creates a softer leather (good for things such as garments and upholstery), but is more water and heat resistant. As to the Horween process, I would hope that its combination creates a leather with the best of both worlds (or as much as is possible) worth the premium on its prices, rather than a compromise that is not as good as one or the other.
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  11. #10
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    Re: Are Bulang & Sons straps worth trying? Do you like their unique "spongy" appearance?

    Good info everyone.
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