During a discussion of watch straps and the pomposity of one Hodinkee (yes, we were talking about the damn clock), one of our TBWS patrons and leatherworker, Eric, the owner of EA Leather Goods (@ea8 on Instagram) reached out to me on our Patreon Slack channel.
He asked if I’d be interested in doing a head-to-head review between one of his custom straps and straps from the Hodinkee Shofp. I thought I would do one better and include a sampling from Worn & Wound’s Wind-Up Watch Shop into the mix as well. While I own a variety of leather straps from a lot of different makers (from the very cheap to the wallet-violating), I have not been able to steer myself clear of either of these shops.
Though Hodinkee has, for all intents and purposes, lost their goddamn minds in terms of marketing and product offerings, I have not completely shut them out. I’ve always enjoyed their “Talking Watches” YouTube series and, before they really pivoted from watch journalism to a primarily retail business (I challenge you to find me a recent watch write-up on that site that has a wisp of criticism to it), they were one of my main resources when I first got into the hobby. As such, while much of their shop is out of my budget practically and philosophically (this IS a hobby after all, not a lifestyle) they do seem to have some very attractive offerings in the strap department. More on that in a bit.
Worn and Wound was probably the first site I found when getting into watch collecting. Back then, they were still firmly planted in the under-$1,000 space. Most of their reviews were for things like the Seiko SNK series, the Citizen Nighthawk, and the Maratac Pilot to name a few. A few years later, they leaned heavily into microbrands and started the Wind-Up Watch Fair in NYC which has been an event I’ve attended a few times, and which is a pretty good time if you haven’t been. When they launched their own online shop and line of watch-cessories (straps, watch rolls, and now, some type of watch box/tool box contraption) they definitely had my attention.
From my perspective, Worn and Wound has gone from what TBWS currently seems to provide to the Watch Fam to being a bit too close to the aforementioned Hodinkee’s respective rear quarters. The final straw on that matter was reading an article where they refer to “their friends at Hodinkee” and their “very limited, very cool, retro inspired mechanical clock.” The watches they review have steadily risen in value putting them just out of reach of much of their original audience and making me question exactly which part of the watch market they are faithful to covering.
Both the Hodinkee Shop and the Wind-Up Shop carry some very attractive straps but each outlet’s change in business strategy and company ethos begs the question of whether or not these offerings, often seen as overpriced, are really worth their salt or whether those of us who own some of them have been gobbled up by Moloch, the Hype Beast (see Metropolis, Fritz Lang, 1927 for reference).
As some of you may know from reading my other articles for TBWS, I am aesthetically-driven and design focused primarily when it comes to my watch collecting. Brand history, craftsmanship, et. al. are certainly important to me and definitely enhance the aesthetic pleasure of watches for me (A great looking field watch with actual military lineage? Does it get better?). But, when it comes down to it, I need to have a visceral and immediate connection to the thing I’ll be staring down at all day.
Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been able to fully divorce myself from the Hodinkee and Wind-Up shops. What drives me to their straps are two simple but important things: color and texture. I have not found, from many independent strap brands whose products I own, the nuanced variety of color (mostly) and texture (occasionally) that are offered by the Hodinkee and Wind-Up shops. But then there’s the price. Both companies charge what many would see as exorbitant sums for their straps. With the exception of a few straps I bought for retail, many of the things I own from Worn and Wound have been purchased secondhand or a fraction of the cost. I only have one Hodinkee strap.
In heated discussion on the TBWS slack, we have talked about just what makes a good NATO, the quality of stitching on overpriced leather straps, and just how much those things should be worth. Some of us wouldn’t spend more than $50 on a strap. Some think even $50 is pure insanity, while others (myself included at times) have dabbled in (foolishly perhaps) straps exceeding $100.
So where, exactly, is that money going? Is it looks? Leather quality? Finishing? This is precisely why Eric from EA Leather Goods’ suggestion seemed like such an interesting one, to really have an up-close look at straps from the big houses side-by-side with one of his, a product of an independent craftsman who makes straps largely on-spec and for a fraction of what either of the others companies charges.
As I mentioned, I am a #StrapNerd and have way too many straps from way too many strap makers, everything from the cheapest (CheapestNatoStraps) to my one Hodinkee strap. While I will be looking at work from EA Leather Goods, I would be remiss not to mention some of the other well-made and aptly-priced leather straps from a few other smaller strap makers: Threaded Leather and A Curated Wrist. However, neither of them asked me to write an article and Eric did, so they’ll hang out in the watch box for this article. Mad love, though.
Let me first talk briefly about the straps I own from the big guys. I’ve accumulated a number of Worn and Wound straps in the last few years but, for the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on a “High Craft Vintage” strap in sage. The one strap I have from Hodinkee, their “Aged Hunter Green Leather,” was a Christmas gift from my wife and son to pair with the 1969 Omega Seamaster Chronometer I bought to celebrate my son’s birth.
Worn and Wound “High Craft Vintage” ($125)
I had my eye on this particular strap for a while. While I accumulated a few other, cheaper, straps from Worn and Wound, this one kept calling my name. Finally, at Wind-Up last year, since I didn’t pull the trigger on a watch, I decided to splurge and get this strap. I have to say that I was and am still very happy with it.
The strap comes in what Worn and Wound calls “sage.” It’s a very cool-toned, almost gray, green strap. What I like about the color is the subtlety of the green and the fact that the leather keeper and painted sides of the strap are a dark brown which contrasts nicely.
The texture is probably the leading factor that drew me in. This particular strap is made in kind of a long-nap suede, a type of leather I have not seen offered from any of the independent makers who I’ve bought from. Perhaps long-nap suede is a more expensive or harder to get/process type of leather. Perhaps I should have looked that up before writing this article. Well, as Kaz would say, “I’m not a (motherfucking) leatherologist.” I also really enjoy the fact that the leather on the keeper has a smoother texture with a bit of a sheen to it. Again, nice contrast and aesthetic in my humblest of opinions.
This feels like a fairly well made strap to me. The top leather feels lush, though the bottom leather padding doesn’t seem particularly expensive. This strap also has black painted edges, which is a nice touch, but which Worn and Wound only offers on its highest-priced straps (a fact that I find very disappointing). The hardware is ok but I’ve seen heartier buckles, even some emblazoned with a maker’s mark.
The leather is pliable but the strap does feel a little light in hand. It almost seems as if they used the thinnest sliver of that nap-suede they could muster and then bulked it out with the cheaper-feeling leather on the underside. My strap is 22mm and tapers nicely 4mm down from that at the end.
Hodinkee “Aged Hunter Green Leather Watch Strap” ($155)
Again, what drew me in was the color of this strap (yes, I know, another green one). In particular, I saw a “Talking Watches” episode with Howie Kendrick who had this very strap on a Red Sub. Sure, a Red Sub would make a lot of shit look top notch, but there was something about the combo that struck a chord with me. I bought this strap, as I mentioned, for my silver-dialed Seamaster, but I have also worn it with my Benrus 3061 “Bullitt” which has perfect lume patina and a red-tipped second hand, and I think it looks great.
The green here is definitely not what I would call “hunter” which is a deep but more green green than this. I feel like this strap borders more on olive. It takes on different characteristics in different lighting, but none of them seem to truly be hunter green (except under the fashion-watch lighting conditions of the Hodinkee shop photography studio).
This strap definitely has a more pleasing texture, or maybe I should say quality, than the Worn and Wound strap. The leather has a velvety suede-like feel to it and, holding it, you can tell that the leather is of a good quality.
Aside from the quality of the leather, the strap is also hand-stitched (which I would expect for the price) and appears well made (though there are a few small pieces of leather which seem to have frayed a bit from the sides). This strap also has a nice taper to it and also has painted edges.
They have definitely not cheaped-out on the underside of the strap. In other words, if I didn’t know who made it, I would assume this was an expensive strap. The buckle is, weirdly I think, matte steel. There is no choice in the matter when buying this one so, if you want your expensive strap to match your polished watch, yer outta luck, fella.
EA Leather Goods “Tan” ($65-$75 depending on your specifications)
I had actually reached out to Eric a while ago to see if he could custom make a strap close to the Worn and Wound sage strap (and reached out to Threaded Leather to ask about a custom made version of the Hodinkee Aged Hunter Green strap). He didn’t have the leather or the color and I ended up going with the Worn and Wound version.
What I’ve found from browsing the EA Instagram is that there is a good variety of colors (and patterns) but the strong points seem to be very rich versions (and shades) of the staple blacks and browns. Eric sent me a 22mm strap in a very attractive tan brown with natural colored thread stitching. The tan is a perfect shade, more honey-brown than the often seen orange-brown tan color. Tan brown is a staple strap color for a reason. It looks good with everything. And, indeed, this strap looked good with whatever I paired it with (mostly Seiko divers since they’re most of what I have in the 22mm lug range).
This is where I think EA Leather Goods hits their stride. The first time I put this thing on my wrist it felt like a broken-in baseball glove. I was taken aback by how supple the leather was and how easily it conformed to my wrist on first wear. Eric mentioned that he used a special treatment on the leather to give it that pliability. While the leather of the other straps was soft and pliable, it didn’t have the feeling and quality of being soft in the way that this strap did, especially for a strap of a more substantial thickness.
The first thing I mentioned to Eric on our Slack channel when I received this strap was how soft the damn thing was. The leather itself is smooth and has a sheen to it and has all of the grain that you would hope for in a piece of quality leather, something which you know will only look better and better the more it’s worn.
Here’s what started our whole discussion. Could an independent strapmaker create an as good or better quality product for half (or even a third!) of the price of so-called “high end” outfits like Hodinkee and Worn and Wound. I think the answer is a resounding YES. It might be my personal preference, but I really enjoy the heft and thickness of this strap.
It makes me think less of what I’ve discussed above and more of the RIOS 1931 strap I own (which, ironically, is also sold in the Wind-Up Watch Shop). I guess my preference for thicker leather is dependent on which watch I’m putting it on (it would be overkill on my vintage King Seiko), but there’s something about the thickness of this strap that seems to be a vote of confidence for its quality. It just feels substantial and well made. The hand stitching is impeccable and there’s even an embossed “EA” logo on the backside of the strap. The hardware is solid. One thing I do wish is that the leather keepers were a bit thicker, but that’s a small complaint about an otherwise great strap.
So, is my strap from EA Leather Goods just as good, if not better, than the more expensive offerings from Hodinkee and Worn and Wound? I think, in terms of feel and construction, I would gladly pay twice as much as Eric charges for his work (which, again, is largely bespoke; what other bespoke products can you get for such a reasonable price?). If I saw this strap on either of the other companies’ websites I wouldn’t question its inclusion. It really does make you stop and consider exactly what’s important to you and what you are willing to really sink your money into.
I can tell you this: I’m done buying brown leather straps from the big guys. However, there’s still the matter of those subtle color and aesthetic choices. If the independent strap makers, like EA, got their hands on some more varied and nuanced colors, they would leave the other guys in the dust. Then again, I have more leather straps than I wish to admit in more shades of the same colors than I wish to admit, so I might just be jaded.
You really have to make up your own mind about what you value in strap design. The fact of the matter, though, is that you don’t have to break the bank to buy a quality piece of leather hand made by a true artisan. That seems to be the most important takeaway here (as is the case with independent watch brands): there’s always some kind of tradeoff, but you can’t argue with a $50 strap that wears like a million bucks.
Henry is a scholarly watch nerd based out of northern New Jersey. He works as a professor of composition and creative writing by day and a fiction writer by night. Both his academic and creative work have given him insight on design and rhetoric and his fiction writing background influences his humorous, narrative take on watch reviews. His watch collecting habits tend to lean toward vintage, but he never shies away from unique and interesting new pieces. Henry is also an avid musician, record collector, whiskey aficionado, serial hobbyist, and all-around enthusiast.