In this article you'll find everything you need to know about our American Made Horween leather straps.

Like our watches, ensuring best-in-class leather quality means focusing on the details and doing the little things right. We've worked to constantly improve and refine our leather products, and we're incredibly proud of the quality, craftsmanship and source origin of our current offering.  

Why should I care about this product?  

a) Premium American Hides

Great leather comes from great hides, and our Vaer straps are made from some of the very best available.  We use extra-thick USA-raised steerhides which are sourced by the Horween Leather Company in Chicago Illinois. Aside from speciality horse leathers, like Shell Cordovan, our choice of Heavy Native Steerhide (HNS) is the best strap leather available.

Here's a quick breakdown of leather grades:

Genuine Leather - The majority of wristwatches are sold with genuine leather bands. While this material choice may sound impressive, genuine leather is actually extremely poor quality. Watch bands marked as genuine leather are made of several layers of bovine leather scraps bonded together with glue and then painted to look uniform. They are made in China from leftovers of other projects and will typically fall apart after a few months of continual use.

"Genuine Leather is essentially the plywood of the leather world."

Calf hide - Calf skin is a popular leather choice for handbags, wallets and accessories as it is the softest and lightest (least thick) type of bovine leather. It has a finer grain appearance than more mature cattle leathers, however it lacks the body (compositional density) to make it a good choice for watch straps.

Cowhide - Cows are great for making milk, and producing calves, not for making leather goods. Cowhides are lighter in weight, and more spongey than the younger hides of steers or heifers. Since they live longer, cowhides also have more natural scratches, markings and imperfections.

Steerhide - Most of the cattle raised for meat are steers , and consequently, it's also the most popular option for leather products. In addition to being readily available, steerhide is also very consistent in terms of weight and usable area which results in predictable yields.

Heavy Native Steers (our choice) - HNS is a premium sub-category of steerhide that is used to demarcate lots that have a heavier  average weight and include 5% or less branded skin.

Bullhide - As you might imagine, bull leather tends to be larger and heavier with heavily wrinkled shoulders and a less dense grain than steer or calf skins. Compared to other forms of bovine leather bull leather is generally hard to come by, and is rarely used for leather making.

Horsehide - Horsehide has a coarser grain, and a far more uneven weight than cattle hides (some sections will be thin, others parts will be very thick). It is generally more abrasion resistant, has a different fiber structure, and displays more natural markings. Horse "shells" from the butt of the animal are some of the most premium (and expensive) types of leather available. This leather makes excellent watch straps and is something we would consider introducing in the future.

Save the Rainforest, Buy American Leather

The vast majority of leather, from Italian shoes, to Chinese handbags, to German car seats is made from the skin of Brazilian cattle. While Brazil’s beef sector is still second to America's (accounting for 14% of global beef, compared to 15% for the US), its cheap labor force, and burgeoning tanning industry make it, by far, the number one source for processed and semi-processed hides.

The American cattle/beef industry is no saint when it comes to environmental sustainability, but its record is far better than Brazil's. According to a report from public policy group Brighter Green, cattle ranching has caused 65-70 percent of land clearing in the Amazon, with pasture expansion the primary cause of deforestation. Even more troubling is that, according to 2013 report, 26% of the Brazilian cattle industry is "clandestine" meaning that both land-use as well as health and safety is neither controlled, nor inspected.

While environmental protection is not something we considered when we were sourcing our leather bands, it's a strong secondary benefit, and a good example of how small batch local sourcing can help promote sustainability.    

b) Tanned in Chicago by Horween

As of February 2019, all Vaer bands are tanned by the Horween Leather Company in Chicago, Illinois. Horween is a fifth generation family business and one of only a handful of tanneries in the United States that still process hides from their raw, cured state to finished aniline leather.

Founded in 1905, by Ukrainian immigrant Isadore Horween, the company’s unique tanning process has gone relatively unchanged over the past century. Hair-on native hides are received from packinghouses and treated at a 90,000-square-foot factory at Elston and Ashland Avenues near the Chicago River.

Once the hides are unloaded and cleaned by hand, they are de-haired (in a large washing drum), soaked in a chemical solution to remove remaining fats and proteins.

The leather is then treated with salt and pickled for 24 hours, so that it reaches a desired pH level. After the pickling process is complete the hides are bated and then finally tanned. The hides then are sorted, graded and re-tanned to create different textures and suppleness. Finally, they are dried and receive color, finish and oiling to achieve a certain character.

“We take the best of everything; the best hides, the best oils, the best dyes and finishes – we do whatever it takes to make that leather the best. The price goes on last, and if we cannot sell it for what it is worth, we should not make that leather.”

- Arnold Horween III, President Horween Leather Co.

When Horween was founded at the beginning of the 20th century, Illinois was not only the leather making capital of the world, but also one of the world’s largest producers of watches thanks to the Chicago-adjacent Elgin Watch Company.  One hundred years later, the majority of U.S. tanners, leather workers and watch companies have either closed shop or relocated to countries with lower labor costs. Horween is one of the very few companies that have survived from that era, which is a testament to both the quality of the products and their steadfast commitment to American industry.

3. Cut and Sewn in USA

Once our hides are tanned and dyed by Horween, they are shipped to our team to be made into finished watch straps.   Each leather band is cut, trimmed and cleaned with scissors, shaved with a lathe, stitched and sewn and heat stamped with our logo, and the “Handmade in USA” designation.

We currently offer four different styles of leather watch strap, a tan and black single pass design (which slides through the springbars like our Nato-style strap) and a tan and black two piece design (which uses quick release spring bars). All of these straps are cut from 4/5oz hides, use Horween’s Essex color treatment, and are sized at a 20mm width.

Vaer Single Pass Leather Strap

The Vaer single-pass design is our original leather option. Because it simply slides through the back of the springbars, it is easily interchangeable with our standard waterproof nylon strap. If you enjoy frequently changing your bands, or plan to be in an out of the water a lot, this is an ideal leather option. It’s also less labor intensive to produce than the two-piece design, and as a result it’s slightly less expensive.

In order install a Vaer watch onto the single-pass, you simply feed the tail end of the strap down through the top set of lugs, feeding the leather in-between the case and the springbars. The ideal position of the watch head is variable, and will depend on your wrist size and how you want to position the extra length and keeper.

Vaer Two Piece Leather Strap

The Vaer two-piece design is our premium leather option, and provides a more tradition look and feel than our single piece slide-through. This design leverages quick-release springbars to allow a seamless integration with our standard waterproof nylon strap. If you don't change your watch strap frequently, and aren't planning to be using your watch underwater, this is an ideal leather option. Because installing the quick-release spring bars is labor intensive this design is slightly more expensive than our single piece slide through.

In order attach the quick-release leather bands to your Vaer watch you need to remove the pre-installed springbars. To do this, pinch the bar at the point where it comes in contact with the watch case and pull the springbar downward to disengage tension. This will release the bar from the notch in the watch and allow for easy removal.

To attach the quick-release bands, position the end of the bar into the notch on the watch lugs and pull down the small metal knob on the other end to engage the spring. Align the loose end of the bar into the second notch, and release the tension of the spring to lock the band into place. Make sure the strap piece with the buckle is attached to the top of the watch case.  

4. Summary

A wristwatch isn't worth much if you don’t have a great strap to wear it on.  When we first started exploring how to source leather bands it was obvious that offering a Chinese made Genuine Leather strap is the easiest and cheapest path (hence why it’s the default choice for most watch brands). We weren't satisfied with this solution and decided to pursue a long and complicated path to make something better.  

In conclusion, here are the main things that set our Vaer leather straps apart:

Native Hides

Our leather is made from 5/6oz premium American cattle hides. We hand-inspect every hide we use for our watches. We’re proud to source our two- piece Quick Release Leather Strap from the Horween Leather Company.

Tanned in Chicago

We’re proud to source all of our leather straps from the Horween Leather Company.

Cut and Sewn in USA

Each leather band must be cut with a die, trimmed and cleaned with scissors, shaved with a lathe, stitched and sewn and stamped with our logo.