The worlds of horology and leatherworking have always been intertwined, and recent collaborations have only strengthened their synergy.

Watchmakers and cordwainers have long been empathetic of each others’s assiduous crafts. The art and science behind haute horlogerie and the craftsmanship required for leatherworking both require massive amounts of practice and skill. Still, they are fundamentally different in construction: Where footwear may go through hours of painstaking stitching and cobbling, horologists spend months tinkering with the tiny mechanisms of a watch’s movement.

As the relationship between leatherworking, shoes, and watches grows and develops, so too does the men’s fashion landscape. With traditional design being challenged and pushed forward, men are no longer limited to simple leather shoes and wristwatches. The combination of these two know-hows by way of collaborative capsule collections signals the maturation of male accessories and of men’s style as a whole.

During these partnerships, we have seen creative advancements for women’s timepieces as well. The typical audience for, say, Christian Louboutin is decisively female, so when he works with Jaeger-LeCoultre, it only makes sense that he creates a whole new collection of Reverso’s for women. Collaborations drive the creative process and can shape the future for years to come in multiple industries.

IWC & Santoni

IWC has to be viewed as the godfather of this recent run of collaborations that has spread across Switzerland. Going back to 2011, IWC announced a five-year partnership with Santoni, the renowned Italian leatherworking maison, to create straps for the manufacture. Starting with the Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days series in 2011, IWC has since used Santoni straps to fit both the Portugieser and Pilot watch collections.

The IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days (Ref. 5101)
The IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days (Ref. 5101)

The union between the two historic brands came naturally. Christian Knoop, creative director of the Schaffhausen, Switzerland-based watchmaker, says,“IWC and Santoni both work with very traditional products: the watch and the shoe—and both brands are known for giving these products a new and contemporary twist.”

IWC capitalizes on Santoni’s proprietary patina, which is applied layer-by-layer to the leather before it leaves the factory to create a one-of-a-kind sheen. Better still, it complements the IWC aesthetic, including this year’s collection of Pilot’s watches like the blue-dialed Mark XVIII. “A strap can make or break the design of watch,” says Knopp. “It’s of essential importance to find a good and well matching combination.”

To accentuate the unique texture of the leather used for the IWC watch straps, Santoni also retraces the pattern with a fine paintbrush. (PHOTOPRESS/IWC)
To accentuate the unique texture of the leather used for the IWC watch straps, Santoni also retraces the pattern with a fine paintbrush.

The detail Santoni puts into its straps is incredibly time consuming. Each strap can take hours of work, as up to 10 layers of color are applied by hand. It is finally polished, again by hand, giving it the quality and craftsmanship necessary to match an IWC timepiece.

Hublot and Berluti

This year’s partnership between Swiss watchmaker Hublot and French fashion house Berluti, which was unveiled at Baselworld, takes an innovative approach to craft a different and inspired timepiece. Rather than focus on what would be an obvious leather watch strap, this meeting of the minds focused on the dial. In creating the two distinct, limited-edition timepieces—the Classic Fusion Berluti All Black and the Classic Fusion Berluti Scritto—a unique set of challenges presented themselves.

Berluti leather polishing kit.
Berluti leather polishing kit with Chelsea boots.

Berluti leather is composed of 30 percent water, an element detrimental to a watch. Thus one of the greatest issues to overcome while crafting the dial was condensation.“Using a living material in a sealed case is very complicated,” says Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot. The solution, according to Guadalupe, was to dry out the dial-in leather, and then encapsulate the dial between two sapphire crystals.

The next task was “finding the perfect balance between the nuances of the dial and the strap,” says Guadalupe. Olga Berluti, head of the brand, and her team, who describe themselves as “modern-day alchemists,” used tobacco bis-hued leather to create the dial and strap for the Scritto, limiting it to an exclusive 250 editions.

The Classic Fusion Berluti All Black timepiece.
The Classic Fusion Berluti All Black timepiece.

With this, the design team created an illusion that masks where the strap ends and the watch begins. This signature integration of strap and watch follows in the tradition of another Hublot model, the iconic Big Bang, in which the strap appears to continue undivided along the caseband. What’s more, Hublot has crafted a watch that breaks the very boundaries of horological anatomy by combining the natural and the mechanical.

Roger Dubuis and Massaro

Contrary to the notion that the watch industry is an “old boys club,” Swiss watchmaker Roger Dubuis and famed Parisian shoemaker Massaro decided to explore together the niche of women’s timepieces. Their look into the nature of femininity is an extension of Roger Dubuis’s focus on women. In fact, every single watch introduced by the brand at this year’s SIHH was a women’s watch, an unusual and remarkable feat considering the male predominance of the watch market. Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Roger Dubuis, trusts that expanding their audience in this direction is key to the global expansion of the Roger Dubuis brand. “We believe that a woman’s assortment has to be different from the men’s. In the past, the women shared a theme that was predominantly male,” he says. “This is the first year that the women’s product theme will be as strong as the men’s.”

Roger Dubuis Velvet by Massaro
Roger Dubuis Velvet by Massaro

Working with the house of Massaro enabled Roger Dubuis to tap into the minds of a business that has clothed the feet of the world’s richest and most famous women for over a hundred years. The result of the pairing is the Velvet by Massaro, one of five models in this year’s Velvet collection, which has existed in some form since 2008. The ethos of the shoemaker can be seen in the pleated gold leather strap, featuring distinctive braiding that flatters the watch’s satin sunburst exterior and yellow-gold appliqués. Certified with the prestigious Geneva Seal, as are all Roger Dubuis timepieces, the Velvet by Massaro brings together two of the more exclusive members of the fashion world.

Jaeger-LeCoultre & Louboutin

Jaeger-LeCoultre, one of the most storied brands in all of Swiss watchmaking, and Christian Louboutin, arguably the most famous name in footwear came together to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the former’s Reverso timepiece. The resulting pieces stun, including the Reverso Classic Duetto with its art deco lines that reach across the dial into infinity, framed by two rows of diamonds on both sides. Another timepiece in the collection bears a transparent plastic strap that epitomizes Louboutin’s archives—many of his shoes rely on transparency to show off the skin rather than the shoe itself. It only makes sense that he would carry over these ideals into the watch world.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso by Christian Louboutin
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso by Christian Louboutin

The shoemaker’s goal, he says, was “not to improve the Reverso, but to offer a different perception, through inventive surface and bracelet design.” What resulted was a one-of-the-kind timepiece collection that astounds with its powerful originality; each timepiece is strikingly different.

These days, it is refreshing to see that there are still luxury brands willing to collaborate and explore new creative methods to keep the industry in a constant state of development rather than stagnation. The mutual respect between these two trades and the brands involved is apparent just by gazing upon the fruits of their labor. Recognizing what has yet to be explored—such as Hublot’s leather dial or the transparent Louboutin strap—and roadmapping a successful creative process is a sign of strength and togetherness in an industry known for its exclusivity.

– Logan R. Baker