As fellow watch enthusiasts, I am sure you will agree that what type of strap or bracelet a watch is fitted with greatly impacts the overall style of the timepiece. As such, I wanted to share with you my recent trip to Camille Fournet, the French luxury leather goods company that specializes in high-end watchstraps.
I have been buying watchstraps from its boutique in Rue Cambon—the heart of Parisian luxury and fashion—since the early-2000s. As a watch collector, I have always appreciated the handsome aesthetic and high quality of the brand’s straps. What’s more, I wholeheartedly believe that fitting a case with a stunning strap increases the watch’s beauty tremendously. For instance, a strap made from exotic skin like alligator in a vibrant color can make the watch dial sing by emphasizing certain colors and patterns.
I have always been interested in what it takes to make a luxurious leather watchstrap: how it is done, how long it takes, and how many steps it requires until the final product is complete. So I contacted the Camille Fournet manufacture to see if the company would be willing to host me on a tour and answer my questions. A few weeks later, I took the train to Tergnier, located to the north of Paris, where Frederic Poletti, the chief production officer of Camille Fournet, warmly welcomed me.
I was surprised to learn that it requires anywhere from fifty to sixty operations to manufacture a watchstrap, spanning across seventy minutes per piece. I was also informed that the two main types are “Remborde Edge” and “Cut Edge” straps where the former uses a special adhesive and presses the strap under heat and extreme pressure and the latter seals the edge of the straps with a color stain to permit color contrasts.
Armed with this newfound knowledge, I was invited to witness the first step in Camille Fournet’s manufacturing process, which is the inventory of exotic skins used to make the straps. The exotic skins, which includes, alligator, ostrich, lizard, python, and others, have to be registered and classified. Today, Camille Fournet’s inventory houses 10,000 skins across 500 references. Since no two skins are identical, the material is classified based on quality, imperfection, cuts, and so on. It is interesting to note that crocodile skin is virtually non-existent—it is mostly alligator skin.
The first step in the production line is the cutting of the skin. This step comprises of both machine and manual operations, which requires a good eye and extensive experience. The skin must be always cut in the same direction and it is based on clients’ parameters. Following this, the next step focuses on working on thinning out the skin to make it softer and supple without damaging it. The next phase is to fabricate the inside of the skins to permit the volume and relief of the watchstrap.
Naturally, Camille Fournet abides by very strict standards and each step undergoes stringent quality control before moving onto the next process. I could not help but notice the number of white gloves and calipers used by everybody on the floor to ensure that strap size and thickness were up to standard. Plus, highly experienced managers are on hand to supervise each operation.
The subsequent procedures include gluing, mounting, and assembling—all subjected to quality control where precision, patience, experience, and expertise are required. The straps are validated through exacting requirements and, if needed, are sent back to a particular process to fix a specific detail until perfection is achieved. All of this attention to detail is why Camille Fournet is known as a leading supplier of high-end straps within the luxury watch industry.
Aside from its collection of in-house straps, Camille Fournet is also equipped to manufacture custom-made products including specific logos, colorways, finishes, engravings, and so on. If you need a strap for your 1960s vintage timepiece and would like it to look like it did when it came out of the watch factory all those decades ago, Camille Fournet can do that. There is even a team dedicated to working on prototypes and anticipating future trends—this is where craft meets technology.
It was truly a fantastic experience for me to witness firsthand how Camille Fournet creates its renowned watchstraps. However, what struck me the most was the palpable pride each employee had in their work and the prestigious marque they work for. I could sense a feeling of ownership from all the craftspeople, like Zamila, Mauricette, Sabine, and Romain that work on production.
These are artists who love each of their creations. Working at Camille Fournet requires nine months of training and it takes a minimum of three years to become a prototyper. But occasionally, time is simply not enough; you need innate talent too, such as when George showed me how to make a “Cousu Main” (hand-sewn) bracelet.
Prestigious watch companies work with Camille Fournet, but individuals can also order custom straps via Camille Fournet’s website. It typically takes three to four weeks to receive a custom watchstrap. Today, the manufacture makes around 5,000 watchstraps per year with boutiques in Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, and maybe one day, in the United States.
On my way back to Paris, I reflected on the words that I heard during the visit: quality, pride, respect, precision, training, and experience. And it is clear that it is because of the people that work at Camille Fournet that the brand is recognized the world over for its range of impeccable products.
Laurent Martinez is the proprietor of Laurent Fine Watches in Greenwich, Connecticut. Read more by him at blog.laurentfinewatches.com or visit his store’s site at www.laurentfinewatches.com