For many a watch enthusiast, straps are an important part of watch ownership, with strap purchases and changes according to mood/ weather/ purpose/ colour/ material being a regular part of one’s horological existence. If you’re a Paneristi, strapmania can reach epic proportions, with leather strap cases which can hold two dozen straps, vintage straps that go for four figure amounts, and adoration of particular strapmakers and types of straps leathers and styles.
Perhaps the most celebrated maker of custom straps is A.B.P. (Atelier du Bracelet Parisien).
Situated in the heart of Paris, A.B.P. was founded in 1997 by Jean-Claude Perrin who, after 40 years of experience in the industry with Camille Fournet & Créations Perrin, decided to dedicate himself to bespoke strap making for individual clients. Today, it remains a family business, with Jean-Claude and his son Yann at its helm.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Yann via email, giving some insight into the A.B.P. atelier and those of us (yes, myself included) who have their straps. Apart from the dizzying array of combinations which a customer can select, the most unexpected insight for me was the small percentage of Panerai related straps that they sell.
Q1. ABP is the most renowned strap maker amongst watch enthusiasts, and your customers are worldwide. How many people are there in your workshop making straps?
A. We are a team of 14 people at the workshop, but only seven are making straps.
Q2. How much of your business is done online from outside France, compared to customers visiting your premises, or local orders?
A. 30% of our customers are foreigners. About 50% order online and 50% order at the boutique in Paris.
Q3. I have an A.B.P. Ostrich leg strap that was given to me as a gift, and I wear it on my Panerai PAM48. Given the particular culture of ‘strapmania’ amongst many Panerai enthusiasts, do straps for Panerais form a large part of your orders?
A. Panerai straps are about 10 % of our foreign sales and about 5% of total sales.
Q4. The amount of choice that you provide is truly mindboggling – unusual hide leather types and colours, different linings, thickness, and I read somewhere, a choice of 465 different thread colours. Are there really 465 different colours, and are there particular hides or threads or combinations which are noticeably more popular? Which is your most popular hide?
A. We have about 50 different species and types of tanning, about 20 different strap thicknesses, 20 shapes of straps, 5 to 6 shapes of tips. There are approximately 500 colours available for stitching, and around 20 types of stitches. Hundreds of colours for the hides and the lining! Actually, we have millions of possibilities to make your straps unique. Alligator with round scales is our most popular hide.
Q5. Do most of the customers who come into your atelier to place an order usually know what they want because they have already done research on your website, or do they often need some help and guidance, given the amount of choice available, which can be a bit overwhelming?
A. 50/ 50.
Q6. Many people probably don’t realise that you also make bespoke small leather goods, from bags to pet collars and mobile phone covers, and also resole and glaze shoes. Are straps the most popular of all of your products?
A. We have a watch retailers’ network and sell some pre-owned and new watches, watch accessories, small leather goods, belts, and also do watch repairs. We work on shoes and also create mobile phones soft cases and covers. Watch straps constitute 70% of our earnings.
Q7. Your website shows a huge range of items that you have made for customers over the years – I think that the most unexpected one for me was the leather case for chopsticks! Do you get many ‘unusual’ orders, and what is the most memorable one for you?
A. We actually, have a lot of strange orders, but you’re right, the case for chopsticks is definitely the most unexpected.
Q8. Is there a demand for very exotic hides that are difficult to source?
A. Absolutely, but of course we respect the law, so we never work on forbidden hides.
Q9. A.B.P. was founded in 1997 by your father Jean-Claude Perrin, after 40 years of experience in the industry with Camille Fournet & Créations Perrin. It is very much a boutique family company – do you think that one day you may sell more ‘ready made’ straps and leather goods under the A.B.P. name or maintain your atelier’s focus on the bespoke?
A. I love my work and I think that if I had to change the way we work, I wouldn’t love it any more. That is why I want to stay a small company. I don’t need to be rich, I only want to make a good living and enjoy my work.
For those getting a bit bored of their watch, a new strap is cheaper than buying a new timepiece in most cases, although the strap expenditure starts to add up if you build up a collection. OEM straps are can be expensive, with brands known to charge easily $800 for a new strap. At those sorts of prices, the financial temptation is obviously to go for non-OEM, and if you can get a bespoke strap for less than an OEM one, who wouldn’t go with the former?
It is difficult to describe the quality of an A.B.P. strap if you have not ever seen one. Speaking from personal experience, after having seen the frog, cow paunch and ostrich leg ones shown in these photographs, I was converted, and wanted one. These are not just a way of completely changing the look of your watch, but they are also desirable as beautiful examples of an artisan craft.
Many thanks to Yann for his generosity and time in giving us this fascinating insight into his atelier.
This interview first appeared in Watchmatchmaker.com.