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Talking watch straps with Aaron Pimentel from Combat Straps

Aaron Pimentel, watch strap artisan from Montreal.

Aaron Pimentel, watch strap artisan from Montreal.

I first heard about Combat Straps from TimeCaptain, he bought several straps from Aaron and he was really satisfied with the job. What made the experience even more exciting for TimeCaptain was the fact that Aaron’s workshop is in Montreal, which gave the transaction a more personal touch.

Aaron invited us to pay him a visit at his new studio on Jean-Talon Boulevard, a building with several workshops and a theatre company. As I entered his studio with large windows, there was Aaron Pimentel, a young guy with a friendly┬ásmile on his face. It didn’t took too long before the three of us, TimeCaptain, Aaron and myself, sitting around a small table, we were talking watches. He pulled out a SevenFriday, still in his box, a really nice watch, but Aaron has nothing on his wrist because he’s keeping himself for a Radiomir 232, limited edition with gold hands. I was curios to find out how he got into the business of custom strap making?

AP: We’re a team of professional craftsmen, we studied leather here in Montreal. As someone who loved watches, it was natural for me to chose this path and this is one of the differences between my brand and other brands, we’re professional craftsmen, while 99% of the other brands are just guys who pick up some leather and they start cutting it and gluing it together.

There are many techniques that go into it and we don’t cut corners. Even if it’s not visible, or it’s a minimal detail, we will spend the time, whatever it takes, to properly finish it. For example, the finishing of the edge of the strap is at least 45 minutes per strap, while others would just cut the leather and leave it like that.

Another thing that sets us apart, is the fact that we know how to work with exotic materials, be that stingray, python, toad or crocodile. We use techniques that are hundreds of years old and we stick to them in order to create a high quality product.

WP: When did you start?

AP: We started seven years ago and it stayed small till 2012, but after that it started picking up like crazy. I see Canadians becoming more knowledgable about watches, they start to discover and appreciate other brands too, besides Rolex, you’ll see interest in JLC or IWC.

WP: You mentioned that you intend to change the brand name.

AP: Yes, we’re going to change from Combat Straps to Aaron Pimentel, more of a designer name, without any military connotation. Our product is high end and we would like the name to reflect the prestige of the brand.

TC: What is the typical guy who orders a strap from you? Is it a Panerai guy, because they change straps all the time?

AP: We have all kind of people, from the teenager that just got his first watch and would like to have a crazy strap, or a Panerai guy looking for a higher quality crocodile strap in order to dress up his watch. We have older customers looking for a classic Shell Cordovan strap, our clientele is very diverse.

TC: I noticed many Bell & Ross watches on your website.

AP: Yeah, that’s right, we have many Bell & Ross owners and this is were the Combat Straps name originally came, but we’re evolving and the name should evolve too.

WP: This is a question to both of you: how is buying from Aaron Pimentel? How do you communicate with your customers to learn about what they want?

TC: Well, in my case, I have brought a strap last year, I think it was for my Bell & Ross. I found your website trough Google and only when I was ready to buy I realized that you’re from Montreal and I remember, you offered me to come and meet me to put the strap on the watch.

WP: In your case you knew what you want, and you said: “I want this one!”

TC: I’ve seen a picture of a certain leather on the website and we emailed back and forth, I sent him pictures of my B&R and he recommended white stitching, a black buckle to make it more stealth. So, there was a little interaction over the internet and than there was the personal delivery.

That’s the beauty of being in direct contact with the craftsman, like the kid you mentioned with his first watch, and than you can tell him to go blue with red stitching, the same way as you would customize your car. When you design a strap, it’s about customizing your watch and you will end up with a strap and a watch that nobody has.

AP: It’s yours and it expresses your personality, that’s the cool part about it.

TC: Yeah, I have a buddy who bought a Panerai last year, as a 50th birthday gift to himself and I know he bought a blue ostrich strap, something totally go-all-the-way, to go out in the summer. He went extreme, I’m not so extreme, I like the leather, more classic look.

AP: That’s how it works. I don’t do much marketing, I’m not 24/7 on the internet advertising my straps. It’s mostly word-of-mouth, people buy a strap they like and than they will recommend me to their friends.

TC: That’s part of the fun, you can tell your friends about the strap you designed, show them the leather you picked, the stitching.

AP: Half of the fun is wearing the strap, the other half is choosing it. Now we’re also offering to engrave the name of the customer in the back of the strap.

WP: I’de be curious, how long your straps last?

AP: It really depends on the pH of your skin. I just got an email from a customer who bought a strap four years ago and he has been in salt water, in the desert, everywhere and the strap is still good.

WP: I was just thinking that I would love to have a watch strap with my grandfather’s name on it…

AP: Actually I have a customer who ordered a strap made from the leather of his father’s agenda. His father has passed away and now he’s wearing that strap that reminds him of his father. Sometimes, customers ask me for their initials on the keeper, the little leather band that keeps the strap.

I’m really happy with the way the brand has evolved. We use traditional techniques, but wit a contemporary style.

WP: Apart straps, do you do other stuff too?

AP: Yes, we’ll start doing belts, briefcases, wallets, cardholders. We have a very ambitious vision, we would like to be the next Hermes, as a Canadian company. We have all the resources, we have the craftsmen and we have the leather.

It was a great pleasure to meet Aaron Pimentel. He’s the kind of person that knows the value of safekeeping the traditional techniques of leather craft and every strap the leaves his workshop is unique and was designed together with the customer, using the highest quality and exclusive materials out there.

We wish him good look and we hope that his business will further bloom and flourish.

A piece of vintage canvas from 1945 that will become a canvas strap.

The label of a vintage military canvas from 1945.

Python, ostrich leg and crocodile skins. Every skin used by Aaron Pimental has to meet ethical standards, meaning that the animal was not killed for his skin.

Python, ostrich leg and crocodile skins. Every skin used by Aaron Pimental has to meet ethical standards, meaning that the animal was not killed for his skin.

On top a vintage military canvas, the blue material is Alcantara, usually used for the interiors of luxury cars, such as the Lamborghini.

On top a vintage military canvas, the blue material is Alcantara, usually used for the interiors of luxury cars, such as the Lamborghini.

Toad skins

Toad skins

Materials used by Aaron to make straps.

Materials used by Aaron to make straps.

machines to work the leather

These machines are rarely used as much of the work is done by hand.

The buckles and clasps used by Aaron come from Germany.

The buckles and clasps used by Aaron come from Germany.

Aaron showing us the finished edge of a strap

Aaron showing us the edge of a strap that is about to be finished.

Colours and formulas used to prepare the edge of a strap.

Colours and formulas used to prepare the edge of a strap.

A piece of Louis Vuitton canvas that served as material for a very special canvas strap.

A piece of Louis Vuitton canvas that served as material for a very special canvas strap.

Straps in working.

Straps in working.

A fantastic looking orange toad strap with black stingray keepers.

A fantastic looking orange toad strap with black stingray keepers.

A finished strap on customer's Breitling. Photo curtesy of Aaron Pimentel.

A finished strap on customer’s Breitling. (Photo curtesy of Aaron Pimentel)

You can find Aaron Pimentel and his unique watch straps at www.combat-straps.com

As a graphic designer, I'm fascinated by the crossroads between technology and aesthetics. Horology is one of these crafts, where art and engineering come together to produce mechanical wonders that grace the eye. WatchPaper was born from the desire to create an online tool where I can share my passion for watches.