From 1786 to 2011

I recently had a NATO strap revelation, but just prior to the NATOs, I’d taken delivery of a rather more special strap, known as a “Metta”. Five of us had placed a bulk order with Micah, each with a different stitch/ buckle configuration, and in barely a month, our handmade straps arrived.

There are many straps which are popular for Panerais owners, but there are only two that have really piqued my interest. The first was an A.B.P, of which I finally got one in ostrich leg. The second was a Metta, made from over 200 year old reindeer hide.

Firstly, a bit of history.

In the 18th century, Russian leather was considered to be amongst the finest available in Europe. They were renowned for their colour, quality, texture and, strangely enough, their scent, which was reputedly so strong that it was an insect repellent.

The 100-tonne Danish brigantine Die Frau Metta Catharina von Flensburg, outward bound from St Petersburg to Genoa, was wrecked during a storm in Plymouth Sound in 1786. There it lay, with its leather treasure, until 1973, when a team of divers from Plymouth Sound BSAC found what they thought was a mass of rotting seaweed and timber. Investigating further, they found a bell on top of a mud blanket over the wreck. The divers investigated the holds, and discovered hundreds of reindeer hides that were not only intact, but in astonishingly fine condition.

The pressure of 15 fathoms of water combined with the hides’ tanning methods meant that for nearly 200 years, little water had penetrated them. The hides had been tanned in a traditional Russian method involving soaking in pits of willow bark and treatment with birch oil.

With the consent of the wreck’s owner, the Duke of Cornwall, the Plymouth divers, lead by project leader Ian Skelton and Glen Peacham, Plymouth Sound Diving Officer, started excavating the Metta Catharina.

The Plymouth divers didn’t understand the importance of the Metta Catharina’s cargo until a serendipitous overhearing of their conversation in a Falmouth pub by a leatherworker named Robin Snelson. He became the recipient of the early hides, working on the salvaged leather fairly much undisturbed until 1986, when London bespoke shoemakers John Carnera and George J. Cleverley examined the reindeer hide and confirmed their suspicions that this was, in fact, the famous Russian leather from that period.

The leather has since been used primarily for straps, leather goods and shoes, notably by Snelson, G.J. Cleverly, and Hidetaka Fukaya.

The excavation and display of material from the Metta Catharina was not completed until 2006.

And so we come to 2011, and my new Metta.

Firstly, we had to remove the A.B.P.

Micah has a number of stitching and buckle choices available. I chose the 1886 tan stitching and a pre-V buckle for my PAM48. With its distinctive marking, the Metta is quite a thick strap, but fairly soft.

Looks great, doesn’t it?

The keepers are quite large, so one may be sufficient.

One of the tricky things about using leather from 1786 is that things will come up. In this case, a crack appeared on each strap segment, so I emailed Micah, who must be a contender for the most wide-ranging guarantee ever. He told me that this had recently come up as an issue for a couple of straps made from that part of the of hide (expecting consistency from hide that has been around that long would be a big ask), and that he would make me a new one immediately.

And so he did. In two days.

Metta Catharina : 53-ton Danish brigantine, built 1782 carrying hemp and reindeer hides. Leningrad for Genoa via Plymouth.

Sunk: 10 December, 1786 in Plymouth Sound after hitting Drake’s Island in southerly gale.

Position: 50 21.10N; 04 09.77W. Depth: 34m.

The location of wreck can be viewed here on Google Maps.


Categories: Bespoke, Panerai, Straps, watches

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