Since there seems to be quite a few amateur and pro strap makers here, I thought I'd throw my first effort in to the mix...
A few weeks back, I picked up a Marina Militare homage from Roling to see how I liked the size before investing a bunch in a project. Having never worn a 44mm or larger watch before, I thought I'd better see how it fit me before building one from eBay parts. Turns out I liked it so much, I wanted to wear the MM a lot, but the strap was too short and stiff and wasn't comfortable. So, I thought I'd experiment a bit and make my own strap for the MM, since that was part of the plan for the future project, too.
The subject watch is a nice black PVD finish, in the 44mm case, and I wanted to replace the original black strap with a reddish-brown strap. Before I bought any "good" leather, I experimented with an old belt that no longer fit, but was softer than the OE strap. I quickly learned two things. First, thick leather won't fit between the case and bar on this watch, so thin material would have to be used. Second, sewing leather by hand can be hard work! The results weren't pretty, but encouraged me to give it a try for real.
To see what was out there, I took a trip to Tandy Leather Factory. For the same reason that you shouldn't shop for groceries when you're hungry, you shouldn't visit Tandy if you don't know EXACTLY what you want/need. $120 later, I left with 4 pounds of leather scraps ($14US/lb), an awl, needles, 3 colors of waxed thread, some hobby knives, contact cement, black edge dressing, and a membership in their discount club... I also went to Harbor Freight Tools for a set of punches & mini-clamps ($20), and by Michael's for a rotary cutter, 6"x8" cutting mat, and a stainless steel ruler ($15). Great, I'm now $155 in to a "simple" strap project and have nothing to show for it yet.
On to the project. Since I didn't know how much longer I needed the strap to be, I traced out the watch and straps on some paper, recorded some dimensions, and added about 3/4" (19-20mm) to the length of both straps. I then added some material to the bar ends of the straps to reflect the need to wrap the top of the strap over the bar. To give the strap an even thickness, I planned to fill the space between the overlapped ends with a contrasting piece of leather.
The original strap was to sacrifice its PVD buckle, and this complicated things a bit as it's a 24/22 strap rather than the traditional 24/24 straps you see on these watches. I wanted to achieve the 24/24 look, so I had to get a little creative with the long side of the strap. The plan was to come out of the watch case at 24mm until just before the buckle, then notch it in to 22mm for the buckle. On the long side, go straight out with 24mm, then use a punch to reduce the width 1mm on each side and carry that down to the end. Sounds simple. It ALMOST worked like I wanted, with only my careless measurements preventing success.
I settled on a reddish-brown croc print outer, and a orange-tan "paisley" print inner, with a bit of the orange-tan on the tip of the long strap and also for the loop near the buckle. I used contact cement to join the rough pieces, with short pieces of nylon tubes to create the channels for the bars to pivot around. Something like the ink tube in a ball point pen is similar to what I used. Everything was glued and wrapped around a bottle to build in a curve to the strap. This turned out to not be a big deal with the thin, soft leather I used on the underside of the strap, but might be on thicker/stiffer material. When the contact cement was dry, I removed the tubes so the strap leather is directly on the bars.
I trimmed the straps to the final dimensions (note the careless measurements above), and nearly tossed the thing at this point. This is why I don't have any photos of the project in-progress. However, I decided to plod ahead and at least gain the experience I could before tossing it in the trash.
The edge dressing really cleaned up the interface between the two colors of leather, and made it more presentable in general. I also decided that I didn't overlap the ends enough and I couldn't rely only on the cement to hold the strap together. After 3 or 4 attempts, I finally figured out a way of stitching the parts that made me happy. I also stitched down the buckle loop rather than letting it float on the strap. Below are the results of maybe 8 or 10 hours of work spread out over the week between Christmas and New Year's:
Here you can see the texture of the print, but it's very soft so you can't feel it.
...and the all-important wrist-shots:
I’m MUCH happier with the finished product than I was half way through. It’s comfortable, fits well, and (IMNSHO) looks good. Armed with this new knowledge - and a whole bunch of scrap leather - I feel ready to take on the strap for my REAL project, once I get the watch put together.