*cue Law & Order theme song*
Exactly how much of the production process does your “guy” or “gal” control when it comes to the manufacturing of that custom watch strap, huh? Do you truly know if the leather has been sourced from responsible tanneries? Terms like “hand-stitched?” Sure, they may sound fancy but whose hands are we talking about here? The hands of committed employees or the ones of exploited orphans from third-world nations?
The last bit is a tad extra, yes, but don’t deny the fact that you Youtube-ed the Law & Order theme while reading the intro and LOVED IT. For the rest of you lazy buggers, click below and start again…
Jokes aside, let me just say that this isn’t meant to be an investigative piece. Yours truly simply reached out to Conkly, a large-volume/commercial watch strap manufacturer, to see if their products were comparable to the straps you see on sale these days. As a result, this isn’t as much of a review as it is an opinion column because *spoiler alert* a few of the Conklys (Conklies?) come close to some of the other straps I own in terms of quality.
“Hold up. Conkly? Conklee? Conk-klie?”
Con-klee. As I’ve mentioned, these guys are manufacturers of watch straps based in Huizhou (Guangdong Province, China) but with one major difference compared to other companies you’ve come across. Conkly does it by the truckloads. Yes, they sell straps wholesale with orders pegged at no less than 300 units or thereabouts.
Now, being a volume manufacturer means that the list of straps and materials provided is exhaustive, to say the least. At the end of the day, I opted to sample a combination of their regular NATOs, a seatbelt NATO and a “bamboo knot” leather strap.
But that was just the beginning, as I would come to discover. I was then given the choice to pick either brushed, matte or polished buckles. Additionally, I had to choose between 304L or 316L stainless steel buckles and whether or not I wanted them embossed with a logo of some sort. Finally, I had to specify the length, width and thickness of said strap(s). I also requested for large fries with mayo and a cup of Boba with cane sugar.
“So, are the straps really that good?”
At the risk of sounding like a total sell-out… Yes, but no. Well, some of them are. Let’s begin with the regular camo NATO strap. As far as first impressions go, it checks out fine. The buckle and keepers were decently polished/brushed and didn’t feel too low-rent. Props for the uniform stitching, as well.
However, things started to go sour from that point onward. The camo NATO strap is far from pliable (seriously, it’s STIFF AF kind of stiff). Initially, I figured it needed a bit of breaking in but after a week or two of wrist time, nothing changed. So, on that count, this strap is pretty much more show than actual go.
They do have crazy amounts of colour choices, though. So, if you plan to sell 299 pieces and won’t mind a bit of fabric burn on your wrist, go for it. If not, steer clear of them.
I can safely say the same for the sole “bamboo knot” leather strap as well, unfortunately. Aesthetically, it looks brilliant with just the right amount of textured surfaces and tidy stitching but the strap is hard with a capital F. Which makes it more frustrating because when I tried it on, the underside was buttery smooth. It’s just a damn shame that my hand went mildly numb after some time – testament to how stiff it is.
“Geez, man… How are they even close to being good!?”
To answer that, I present to you, the Conkly seatbelt NATOs.
These seatbelt NATOs, I tell you. The minute I pulled the black and khaki straps out of the packaging and felt how soft, supple and smooth they were, I knew these were the real winners here. It’s a sensory thing, if I’m being honest. I can’t really put in words just how comfortable they feel but it’s something along the lines of…
My only niggle with the seatbelt NATOs are the length of the straps. Now, I’m nitpicking here but they weren’t consistent with the length I specified. The slightly longer straps proved to be a tad annoying as the end of the strap would stick out by quite a margin whenever I’ve slipped them on. Not a deal breaker but the inner weirdo in me keeps tugging at it more often than necessary.
“So, most straps come from China?”
Perhaps so. It’s not really that far-fetched of an idea and in the case of the seatbelt NATOs, so what if they were? Not everything that’s made in China is utter crap. Again, I’m not saying stop buying mass-produced straps this very instance but it would be great if everyone knew the value of their straps and where (and how) exactly they’re made.
Is your strap really made in-house from that brand whose website you’re currently browsing? Are you commissioning one that’s truly bespoke? If it is, more power to you. If it isn’t, that’s not to say you’ve gotta’ run away, of course not. Just make sure you’re not overpaying for a strap that came off an assembly line or worse… Bottom line is this, just do your homework and spend a bit of time researching between different strap brands and crunching some numbers.
How’s that for some quality consumer advice courtesy of Centre Seconds, huh?! Now, go start the year right by getting that watch you want. Life is short, #yolo, etc. Happy New Year, folks.