We took a trip to Spain to visit Lorente, a company that supplies some of our hand-made leather watch straps
Just south of Valencia in Spain, the village of Llanera de Ranes consists mainly of one long and picturesque street that’s seemingly stuck in a state of permanent siesta, surrounded by crop fields. Put simply, there’s not an awful lot happening. But continue driving through, and on the left, you’ll find a small industrial estate consisting of a few non-descript units.
Meeting a watch strap craftsman
But what’s behind the shuttered door of one of them is nothing short of remarkable. It’s the home of Lorente which makes leather watch straps of astonishing quality and detail. No expense is spared, and nothing is too much trouble.
Miguel Lorente, the owner of the business, reckons that he’s probably the only man in the world to still hand-paint his watch straps, creating a unique effect.
The business was originally founded by his father back in 1990, but it’s changed considerably under Miguel’s ownership, exporting the majority of its straps outside of Spain and designing bespoke straps to orders for customers, with the accent unapologetically on quality. In the past the company used to make jewellery too: now it’s returned to focussing on its core business. Seven people work alongside Miguel, positioned in a kind of production line, and interestingly all of them are women. “I think because this is a job where you need patience and precision,” explains Miguel. “On the whole, men don’t have the sort of patience you need!”
Miguel himself is an exception: he’s never happier than when painting straps. He doesn’t have a set desk, as he likes to move around the factory doing everything. Having grown up in this unique artisanal environment, Miguel made his first watch strap when he was about 14, mentored by his father. One of the stitchers who worked there back then, more than 30 years ago, is still there now. “She’s like a mum to me: to all of us, in fact!” explains Miguel. People stay a long time, because it takes a while to learn the skills required to craft watch straps at each level. Each person has a set role, but they also learn a couple of other roles too, so that they can cover for someone else in the event of illness. It’s the sort of place where everyone looks after everyone else.
That underlines the Mediterranean family feeling behind this incredibly traditional firm – yet it’s also looking firmly towards the future. Miguel designs all the new watch straps himself, selecting the leather and seeing the creations through from beginning to end. He’s not scared of experimenting with bright colours and new styles. “It’s really all to do with the quality of the ingredients,” he points out, which is why he takes great care in selecting the rolls of leather from preferred suppliers, which he has generally worked with for some time now. The company prides itself on being able to produce pretty much any type of watch strap to order.
On average, the factory produces between 300 and 500 straps every day, in specific production runs to meet the demands of their customers. But if there were one particularly special strap to be made, it might take all morning to produce just one. The hours are long: by 6am people are already in place, and they won’t leave until the evening. Because that’s just how long it takes…
There have been hundreds of different designs made by Lorente over the years – Miguel wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess as to how many – but they all follow the same basic principles. The leather is cut into a rough watch strap shape using a mould, then the lining – of ultra-supple leather is glued on – following which the watch strap is cut and stamped, to ensure the holes are in the right place. Then the straps are stitched and painted before the buckles and loops are added – which are made separately.
That’s actually a gross simplification of an incredibly complex process, as there are many other steps in between. The leather, for example, often has to be shaved before being turned into a strap to make sure that it’s the correct thickness, and padded straps obviously need recycled leather to be inserted between the lining and the main strap, to ensure the bulk.
At the end of the process, a painstaking protocol of quality control ensures that every strap meets the required standards. Just as each strap is assembled by hand, every single one is checked by hand too, before being despatched to a new corner of the world, a long way from the quiet hinterland of Valencia.
Straps that get better with age!
As one of many customers he has all over the planet, including some big names, we're proud to stock Miguel's straps. With everything done by hand – a principle he will never abandon – it’s obvious that these will never be the cheapest straps in the world. But such is the quality of the straps that they actually get better as they age: moulding themselves to your wrist and developing a patina that tells the story of your life. Just as your watch does.
In Miguel’s own poetic words: “I feel that the company recounts my evolution as a person: from adolescence, when I began to discover the world of watch straps in my father's workshop, until today. A story that goes back around 29 years, always around leather and watch straps, where with many failures and some successes I learned this wonderful trade. Now, with the perspective that those years bring, everything makes sense. Each of those failures were necessary – in fact, I would say essential – because from them I learned everything I know now. That’s why, on every watch strap, there’s a real part of me. Each design is the result of my own development: both personal and professional.”