Rochester, New York, might not be the first place you’d think to look for a hand-made watch strap, but David DeMarte of David Lane Design is changing that. Since HODINKEE profiled Mr. DeMarte in 2013, his small side business has grown – his studio in downtown Rochester is now producing more than 300 straps a year completely by hand.
We’ve long admired DeMarte’s operation, and decided to work with him to produce a small, limited batch of a special dark grey museum calfskin watch strap available exclusively here in the HODINKEE Shop.
DeMarte has always been interested in the arts – specifically varieties involving a hands-on or hand-made element – dabbling in ceramics, painting, and more before diving into leather-working roughly 15 years ago. In fact, his day job is teaching high school photography – specifically black and white film photography.
Making watch straps began as a sort of curiosity born of his own budding watch interest and collecting. DeMarte wanted strap options for his own watches, so he decided to try to make one himself. His grandfather had been a shoemaker in Budapest, and DeMarte approached him with his first strap attempt; he continued to develop and iterate from there until he got his grandfather’s nod of approval. From there, friends began asking for watch straps, and soon DeMarte was able to turn it into a small business.
It wasn’t long before he was able to rent a space in the historic Hungerford building in Rochester and establish a small studio for his side business. Since then, David Lane Design has grown to produce 300+ custom straps a year, in addition to belts, wallets, keychains, and more. Though DeMarte employs some part-time help seasonally, he still does the bulk of the work himself, and still entirely by hand.
DeMarte obtains the leather for his straps from a variety of sources, ranging from Horween to vintage artillery pouches. For our strap with David Lane Design, we selected a lovely, smoky dark grey Museum Calf, a premium Italian calfskin often used for high-end shoes.
The calfskin and lining are each individually skived using a small hand-operated device (that to my eye look a bit like a pasta maker); the underside of the leather is gently shaved off until you’re left with the perfect thickness of roughly 1mm for both pieces. At this stage, DeMarte also inspects and tests the stretch on every piece of leather used to create the two keepers that hold the tail of the strap in place; one of his self-proclaimed pet peeves is a loose keeper loop.
From there, DeMarte uses a thin layer of leather glue to carefully attach the lining to the museum calfskin, using a roller to apply even pressure and ensure that the leathers are perfectly lined up without stretching or bunching. He then allows it to cure and set overnight. The next day, he hand cuts the calfskin and lining into the lightly tapered shape you see in the finished product, as well as punching holes for the spring bars and adding small aesthetic touches to round out the appearance, such as coats of edging to seal the two layers of leather.
DeMarte likes to hand stitch all of his straps, saying you have “infinitely more control,” and for the HODINKEE edition, he utilizes a grey French linen thread that complements the charcoal calfskin wonderfully. The straps are completed with the additions of the matte buckle and holes to fasten the strap, and we think you'll agree that the final result is stunning.
During our visit, DeMarte remarked that all he really wants to do is make functional pieces that will last, and that will look better and better as they age. We certainly think he hit the mark with our collaboration. You can shop the David Lane Design for HODINKEE Museum Calfskin Watch Strap in Dark Grey right here.
You can learn more about David Lane Design and custom strap options on his website.