Little covered, watch straps are jostling for attention with exotic and vibrant materials more commonly seen in bespoke shoe ateliers. The artful combination of innovating watchmakers with superlative leather craftsmanship reveals masters at work. It is an oversight to neglect the watch straps that have accompanied this year’s horological releases. The technological feats of complicated watches always command the enthusiast and media at each Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie and Baselworld fairs, but their straps are being led in interesting directions by the very best shoe design houses. High-quality leather, often paired with colour play, and textured and perforated treatments, is creating the visual interest. And men and women are enjoying the intersection between shoe brands and watch leaders. A highlight from Baselworld this year was Hublot’s Classic Fusion Berluti, using bespoke Parisian shoemaker Berluti’s Venezia leather in tobacco or jet black tones. Hublot has produced watches featuring denim and a carbon-fibre take on traditional Swiss lacework. And an alliance between Hublot and Berluti is a synergetic pairing as luxury marques with DNA’s linked by an obsession with detail. Berluti’s patina expertise ensures a watch with character and warmth, but the technical application of leather in the dial is a standout. The dial’s conception was one of the major difficulties of the collaboration due to the challenge of using an organic material in a sealed environment that would be able to withstand long-term use. The Hublot Classic Fusion Berluti All Black bears the Berluti motif, the Gaspard, seen as a fold in the middle of the Venezia leather strap secured by a single stitch. The strap of the Hublot Classic Fusion Berluti Scritto is expertly carved from Venezia Scritto calf leather, with the laser engraving of script inspired by 18th century calligraphy. Each limited edition watch is housed in a box covered in the same leather as the strap, pitched at a classic gentleman with a leather care kit. Another parallel is revealed in a shoe’s hidden engineering; its last structure is all about weight-bearing, while a watch’s engineering is founded on accurate timekeeping. This year the style quotient can’t be ignored. The cult shoe name Christian Louboutin was invited to interpret the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. Louboutin’s series, available in the small and medium sizes of the Reverso Classic Duetto, comprises the first watches from the watchmaker’s new Atelier Reverso line, marking the 85th anniversary of the iconic swivelling watch. The French designer’s signature red leather swathe appears but although two red options are in the offering, a strap and dial with shimmering colours, traversing soft green to pink, from blue to plum, are playful ideas that create an effect like petrol on water or a scarab wing to emulate an iridescence Louboutin has used on shoes. IWC has enjoyed an exclusive relationship for a number of years with Santoni, the luxury Italian shoe purveyor revered for its Manofatto men’s shoes. Most of Santoni’s production, like the exacting ornamental seam work and its famous antique finishing with dye, is still carried out by nimble fingered hands. Many of IWC’s new Big Pilot’s models feature calfskin straps by Santoni, paying homage to aviator watches produced by IWC, 80 years ago. Glamour is in full measure for female admirers of Roger Dubuis’ Velvet collection. One of its latest iterations from the women’s line bears the glorious golden stamp of Massaro – the French shoemaker founded in 1894 that has produced Chanel’s shoes since 2002 and is known for the house’s iconic black and beige heel. The Velvet by Massaro boasts a pleated leather haute couture gold or silver strap co-designed by Massaro. Hermès Faubourg Manchette – a leather cuff for women that celebrates the brand’s equestrian roots – was released at Baselworld 2016 in a gem-set Faubourg Manchette Joaillerie, in four colours that match the gemstones on them: green (malachite dial and emeralds), blue (lapis lazuli dial and blue sapphires), brown (tiger’s eye dial and brown sapphires) and a more subdued black (onyx dial and diamonds). Alligator cuff replaces the usual calfskin, worked as the familiar one piece that moulds around the wrist like a second skin and featuring the maison’s famed saddle stitching technique and, on this occasion, 36 baguette-cut gemstones in addition to its standard pavé diamond hour markers. Another striking colour statement is the Boucheron Reflet Bleu de Jodhpur, with its vivid blue alligator strap, plus sapphires and a blue aventurine dial, evoking the Blue City in Rajasthan. Leather is the star in the strap race but fabric is also big on the customisation front. Tudor excels in the fabric game with numerous offerings for its Heritage collection – and some models of its Fastrider and Clair de Rose. Not to be mistaken for Nato nylon variants, its fabric straps are made in France by a traditional passementerie firm specialising in hand-woven elaborate trimmings or edgings and is one of the few in the country still practising Jacquard weaving. The result is a sturdy, flexible strap with complex patterns and a dense weave with a high thread count for peerless comfort. An audience favourite at Baselworld was the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze, with its nautical-inspired bronze theme from case to fabric strap. The price of a new strap for your regular watch will vary, based on the type of hide; from basic leather to exotics; and the way it’s treated; the workmanship (including stitching); and comfort factors. Omega is known for its exceptional leather straps but there are hundreds of manufacturers in the market so sound advice is to view a strap in person. What’s the next novelty for watch styling? We’ve had watches modelled on cars – could furniture be a new design sphere to rub off on Geneva’s watch studios? Stay tuned.