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The story of an Hermès strap begins in the storage room, which is temperature controlled to ensure the highly expensive stock of hides is damage proof. One-third of the company’s straps are made from alligator; the rest are made of calfskin, buffalo or ostrich hide. The entire process of strap-making is incredibly intense and involves around 50 stages. It takes at least two hours to work on one strap and, in case of customisation and special requests, the procedure can take longer.
Once the leather is chosen from a delightful array of colours, it is carefully cut and split into three layers. The upper layer is what one sees on the face of the strap, the middle layer is a textile lining and the third layer is what is in contact with the wearer’s wrist. The pre-cut straps are flattened to paper-thickness at their outer edges. A strip of Viledon is placed as a lining between the upper and lower sections of strap, and the whole assembly is glued together. The assembled strap is then sent to the “table workshop” where one artisan hand-stitches, hammers, seals and paints it.
The raw edges of the strap are brushed with sand paper and touched up with a layer of dye. A flat, warm, iron-like tool is then used to heat or glaze the edges. Each step is repeated until the look is perfectly uniform and the strap looks as if it came from a single piece of leather.
A forklike tool with many tines punches holes for the saddler’s stitches. Threads running in opposite directions join the leather upper and lower skins to the textile lining between them.
There are two main varieties of seams: machine-stitched and saddle-stitched. The latter requires two needles plied in opposite directions. The thread is knotted in the last few millimeters of the strap, where the “tunnel” for the spring bar is located.
Artistry and technical skill are equally important in sewing a saddler’s seam. The strap’s loops are particularly challenging: the craftsman makes six perfectly placed stitches to merge the loop’s ends.
Machine-sewn seams also require deftness and experience: each material must be stitched at its own particular angle, so the machinery must be adjusted prior to sewing.
After the needle comes the hammer. Hermès will not accept protruding seams, so the strap makers gently rap and tap with their hammers until each strap is flat and smooth.
The next step, processing the edges, usually requires at least 15 separate tasks. Each is executed by hand: abrading, waxing in the desired color, heating to between 176 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and polishing. Depending on the strap, the entire procedure must be repeated as often as five times. Afterward, slim grooves are embossed into the upper leather parallel to the strap’s margins. Finally, the atelier’s director scrutinizes each strap under a loupe. If he discovers no flaws, the strap is punched with marks specifying its material and year of manufacture. The letter “K,” for instance, denotes bands made in 2007. An “L” means the strap was made at La Montre Hermès in Bienne and a “V” means it was made in Paris.