Watch Strap

Leather Guide: Vegetable-Tanned Leather (Featuring Cozy Handmade)

In Tuscany, a land rich with art and tradition, a district with centuries of passion and care built upon ancient recipes and exquisite craftsmanship, brought about perfection in the noble art of vegetable-tanning.

Imagine a piece of leather, warm-toned, tough but pliable, with a natural-woody fragrance, instantly distinguishable for quality. With time, has that piece of leather lost its luster? Likely not, because you know of its life with you, be it as a bag, strap, or anything in between. In this article, we explore the niche art of vegetable-tanned leather and why it appeals to us. This article is supported by our friends over at Cozy Handmade, who provided some examples of vegetable-tanned leather straps.

Image result for pelle vegetable tanned leather
Image: Pelle Al Vegtale

Vegetable-Tanned Leather, Explained

In this day and age, you can find leather products just about anywhere, but not everyone attempts to understand it. The world of leather can be complex and confusing, so today, we break down some differences for you.

The Tanning Process

Let’s first understand how each process differs from one another. The process of preserving the raw hide of an animal in a form suitable for crafting leather goods is called “tanning”. We will be focusing on the type of tanning called “Real Tanning”, which includes Vegetable Tanning and Chrome Tanning. Real Tanning is basically the process of using chemicals to prevent the collagen fibres of leather from disintegration.

Leather is a compound, the simple equation for it is: Collagen Fibres(From the hide of the animal) + Tannic Acid(From Tannins). The entire tanning process serves to use tannins to transform rot-prone hide into the much-loved, leather material.

The Use Of Tannins

Tannings used for the different tanning of leather
Tanning agents: synthetic tanninsChrome IIIQuebracho (vegetable tannin). Image: Leather Dictionary


Tannins, which seemingly looks like lab-use chemicals, can really come from anything. Vegetable Tannin, used for Vegetable Tanning of course, can come from plants all over the world, as long as the tannin content is sufficient, it’s able to be used for tanning.

The difference in tannins used, dictates not only how the leather appears and feels, but also how the process affects the environment. Synthetic tannins used for Chrome Tanning creates toxic wastewater as a byproduct, vegetable Tanning, on the other hand, reuses the water for tanning in a sustainable manner.

The Best Vegetable Tanned Leather

In the leather districts of Tuscany, 20 tanneries produce some of the best vegetable-tanned leathers. A single trait unites their quest for perfecting ethical tanning – Association with Pelle Al Vegtale(Italian Consortium of Leather Tanneries). The consortium regulates, preserves and guarantees the production of vegetable-tanned leather made in Tuscany.

TUSCAN VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER, Pelle Al Vegtale
Image: Pelle Al Vegtale

The Pride of Tuscany

What does this consortium pride themselves in? In simple words – the best leather, produced sustainably.

TUSCAN VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER, Pelle Al Vegtale
Image: Pelle Al Vegtale

Earlier we mentioned how vegetable-tanning sustainably reuses its byproducts, this same authority ensures the entire leather production process follows strict physical and chemical reference parameters in order to qualify the leather.

That’s why Tuscan Leather is so appealing. Owning a piece of Tuscan leather expresses the most virtuous values of the best leather in the business.

A Local Workshop with Tuscan Vegetable-Tanned Leather

Finding Tuscan Leather isn’t easy, in fact, you can’t just find it on sale online. Customers of this leather have to sign a contract of license, entitling them to attach the label “Pelle Conciata al Vegetale in Toscana” to their finished product. In Singapore, we found a small workshop who respected the label and crafts Tuscan Leather, Cozy Handmade.

Cozy Handmade - Crafters of Tuscan vegetable-tanned leather
Cozy Handmade Workshop

The team over at Cozy were not only kind enough to send their products for review, but also invited me over for a visit at the workshop. Through exchanging emails with Luke, one of the members, the disclaimer I was given prior to my visit was that it wouldn’t be presentable.

On the contrary, I was presented with a genuinely presentable workshop. If you have ever visited a watch boutique, you would’ve felt the cold staring of sales associate watching your every move. This workshop emanated an entirely opposite feeling of informality, it was where these craftsmen work their best at, and I had no qualms finding comfort in the space lacking pretension.

As usual, I begin asking questions, mainly speaking with Luke, who represented the brand when we exchanged mails. We talked about his brand and the products meticulously crafted and cared for.

Their Story – Cozy Handmade

Their entry into the leather-crafting business was not planned and was instead by chance. The team of family members, who used to be watch dealers primarily for Rolex watches, procured NATO/Nylon straps – fresh and fitting options for their Rolex-centric customers, which transitioned the business to straps instead – eventually, they shifted over to selling factory-made straps, but with their background in design, the factory-products wasn’t much to their liking.

Cozy Handmade Working on Leather crafts

In the end, the desire to use high-quality and authentic materials brought about a business focused in crafting small leather goods. With the skillful crafting of each item, they stuck to an ideology of producing elegant, minimalist, functional and durable leather goods for the masses.

The Choice Of Tuscan Leather

We know that in terms of vegetable-tanned leather, Tuscan leather is the best of the best, even so, not all craftsmen adopts it for they crafts. So, what inspired this team to center their product-offering around this specific leather?

Rolls of Tuscan Leather in a workshop - Cozy Handmade
Rolls of Tuscan Leather racked in the workshop

When asked of their inspiration, a ‘theme’ if you will, this is what they said:

“We like a very ‘old’ look, a casual look that’s representative of how we dress, very simple and even minimalistic, when its simple, its lasting, and you wouldn’t be sick of looking at it.”

Luke Neo, Cozy Handmade

And sure enough, although the sheen leather possesses a somewhat polarising look, there is no doubt it has a venerable façade. As someone who also prefers to dress simply, I prefer small accessories to represent myself, and a strap for a watch plays a big part in that.

Reviewing Straps From Cozy Handmade

Before I reached out to Cozy for a review, I was actually a customer myself. When searching for a casual leather strap, I came across their Adjustable One-Piece Leather Watch Strap in Nero. Just within a couple of days, this made-to-order strap reached my address, and it was an interesting unboxing to say the least.

Cozy Handmade Leather Strap Packaging

Without the use of extravagant packaging, I had a nice impression of the product I was receiving – A neat re-usable cardboard box and bag withheld my strap, inclusive of a business card and a spring-bar tool.

Then, I noticed a small tag, almost like a price-tag, attached to the strap.

a Tag of Pelle Conciate al Vegetale Tuscany
A Tag of Pelle Conciate al Vegetale Tuscany

Upon research, I found that the Consortium created a guarantee label. This label is followed by a strict product traceability system. Which acts as a foot, placing the responsibility of Cozy as certified craftsmen of this special leather.

Adjustable One-Piece Leather Watch Strap in Nero

Of course, if I hadn’t liked the first strap, this article wouldn’t have been birthed. The watch I had in mind for this strap was the Seiko SRP637 “Baby Tuna”, which was by no means a thin watch. Due to the disparity in weight, the strap felt out of place for it.

Adjustable One-Piece Leather Watch Strap, Vintage Nero, 22mm
Adjustable One-Piece Leather Watch Strap, Vintage Nero, 22mm

So instead, I took the 22mm option I chose and replaced it on the Seiko SSA285. Immediately, the strap dressed the watch down into a simple, everyday wear. The ‘Adjustable’ feature wasn’t rocket science, but I hadn’t seen it anywhere else. When I asked Luke about it, he spoke of the Perlon Strap as an inspiration for the make of this strap. The thin piece of Tuscan leather with this strap type introduced me to another way of wearing a timepiece.

I owned this strap for about two months now, and it has been a soft and supple strap ever since the first week of ownership. The single-pass enables the same fail-safe function as a NATO, but without ever-needing a keeper from the lack of a strap tail.

Single Pass, 3-Ring NATO Military, 103 Style II

Luke sent over their 3-Ring and 4-Ring NATO Straps for review, but before they came in, I didn’t quite understand the difference. When both straps got to me, I quickly noticed that they were distinctively different.

I was told that the strap would be stiff at first, and that it would require some time to break-in. So I wanted to test out how different it feels after about a week of wear. I chose to wear the 3-Ring NATO because my smaller-wrists is more compatible with the single-pass. And here’s what I found:

Single Pass, 3-Ring NATO Military, 103 Style II on SKX013

The strap isn’t easy to wear, initially, and that problem mostly resides with the keepers. With a strap thickness of ±1.80 to 2.0mm and a length of 285mm(excluding buckle), this strap felt large on my 6.5-inch wrist. I had it on my daily-driver though, the SKX013, and wore it day-to-day. The effect of the ever-changing Singaporean weather expedited the “breaking-in” process. Just after a week, the tail end, where the strap is often fitted into the keeper, turned softer with the constant pull.

Effect of wear on Vegetable Tanned Leather
3-Ring(Left, worn for a week) vs 4-Ring

The creases marked the transition of what used to be a rough-fit into the keepers, into a simpler operation soon after.

Distressed Buckle?

When ordering from the site, I realised that aside from the typical hardware option, there was a “Distressed” option. Me being me, I chose it for review even though my watch hasn’t been ‘distressed’ yet.

Distressed Buckle vs Stainless Steel from Cozy Handmade
Stainless Steel Buckle on the Adjustable Nero vs Distressed Buckle on the 3-Ring Vintage 103

Because I have never seen the adoption of this finishing before, I curiously asked how it’s done. Apparently, there are many ways of achieving this look, like with acids-bathes and whatnot, Cozy went with heat-treatment instead and performed sharp-cuts to obtain the worn-out look of scratches.

The finished-product though, was stunning. The metal mimics the wear of the strap, and day-by-day, the strap, with it’s aged-hardware, looked more like a whole. The heat-treatment led to an almost PVD-like façade, although entirely more authentic-looking. If you’d asked me, I’ll say that this hardware option perfectly fits the leather aesthetic.

Leather Watch Strap, Vintage 405 | For Apple Watch

Customised Apple Watch straps aren’t new to the table, but this one offers just enough pizzazz. Apple Watches associates themselves with ‘innovation’ and ‘contemporary’, but what happens if you put it on a strap that is just the opposite of that?

Cozy Handmade  Vegetable Tanned Leather Apple Watch Strap
Apple 38/40mm – Black Hardware – Top-Stitch-C1 Light Brown 1- 120/70(Small)

We gave my brother’s Apple Watch SE a makeover, from it’s original sporty, nylon band to this. What used to look like “just another ubiquitous Apple Watch” is now given character. As a guy who frequents a smart casual look, this leather strap perfectly matched his office-wear outfits.

We picked the C1 Light Brown Stitching with the Vintage 405 colour, and it offered a very warm aesthetic for the Space Gray Apple watch. Wearability-wise, the leather didn’t rub off the wrist like how other straps would in changing-temperatures. It was comfortable and soft enough but maintains a thick-enough presence on wrists. It felt solid and just what you would expect from a strap handmade for you. One thing I noticed though, was that the solid tang-buckle is screw-in, which is not something you’ll see often. As a full package, you really can’t do better if the aesthetic of the straps is to your liking.

4-Ring NATO, Military 103

As mentioned earlier, the 4-Ring NATO is distinctively different from the 3-Ring version, here’s why:

Vegetable Tanned Single Passed vs Double Passed Strap from Cozy Handmade
4-Ring(Left) vs 3-Ring (Right)

It’s not something you’d notice, especially before fitting it on a strap, but the passage through the spring-bar is important. The double-passage on the 4-Ring serves two purpose; increased thickness if you so desire, and a more centered maintenance of the watch position. Those purposes aren’t really important to have, but it stays true to the original NATO design.

Tang Buckle Comparison for 3-Ring and 4-Ring Strap from Cozy Handmade
3-Ring(Left) vs 4-Ring(Right)

The buckle on the 4-Ring maintains the shape and form of the keepers, an ovular shape. I’m not entirely sure of any other functional purpose, but it has a less-solid presence for a fuller, heavier tang-buckle on the 3-Ring.

Personal Opinion Of The Straps

These straps aren’t for everyone. Tuscan leather exists at the very end of the leather spectrum, where the passing of time dictates it’s appearance. For myself, these straps empirically owns a life on it’s own. The patinated nature marks each passing day where my watch is worn on another beautiful product.

3-Ring NATO, Single-Pass Adjustable, 4-Ring NATO from Cozy Handmade
From top: 3-Ring NATO, Single-Pass Adjustable, 4-Ring NATO

There aren’t many products capable of encapsulating traces of your life. While mundane at the time of it’s arrival, these straps quickly became characterful items worn on the daily.

Although, these aren’t straps suitable for every scenario, they exists as symbol of Slow Fashion in a fast-moving world. These aren’t the cheapest straps around, but they are unmistakable choices to put on your wrists if you crave a no-frills look when leaving your house each day.

Final Thoughts

This review served as a mean to communicate to me a form of art – tanning. While it isn’t something plausible to partake myself, I now have a newfound appreciation for tanners and the organisation that supports them. We thank Cozy Handmade for supporting this week’s topic and will be giving away the 4-Ring NATO, Military 103 sent to us.

Giveaway – 4-Ring NATO

Note: This NATO strap has been used for product shots and review.

The giveaway details will be posted on our Instagram Page(@TheNomad360) on 10th February 2021, stay tuned!

Giveaway - 4-Ring NATO strap in Military 103
Leather Watch Strap, 4-Ring Military 103

Discount Code

If you missed out on the giveaway, or simply wish to enjoy 10% your cart total, enter “NOMAD360” for your sweet discount!

Cozy Handmade Discount Code
Cozy Handmade Discount Code

Last but not least, check out our Youtube Review of these straps, along with some watch pairings. Feel free to drop a comment down below should you have any question regarding this week’s topic. If you’re local and unsure of your buying options with Cozy Handmade, do make an appointment with them! Here’s their detail

Cozy Handmade – Contact
https://www.cozy.sg/pages/contact-us
OR
Facebook Appointment
https://www.facebook.com/cozyhdm/services/?show_upsell=1

Address Details:

16 Arumugam Road, #02-05
LTC Building D, Singapore 409961

(Walk-In by appointment only)

Tel No. / Email

+65 61000701 / sales@cozy.sg

Engage in a discussion with us!

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