Watch straps have not more or less been a field ripe with significant innovations and original designs – indeed, it’s a difficult field in which to innovate. Sure, many small-time makers have put forth their own efforts with unique take on fit and finish, hardware and materials, but things have remained pretty much the same since watches were first strapped to wrists. NATOs have followed the same basic formula for decades, as have leather straps – that is, save for Erika’s Originals, which is one of the few truly inventive strap purveyors we’ve seen in some time.
Founder Erika op den Kelder tells me her cult-hit, strap-making empire happened by “pure chance.” After selling her shares in a Netherlands recycling company, Kelder decided to move to Spain with her husband and son to live a more relaxed life. It was there that she started making leather sandals for the fun of it. Naturally, she says, this evolved into making leather watch straps. “Just as I never decided to make sandals I never actually decided to make straps for a living, that all happened organically,” she says.
It was at this point that Kelder’s husband, an ardent watch collector, asked her to make a custom strap for a vintage Doxa diver issued to the Marine Nationale. Appropriately, Kelder wanted to create a replica of the loop straps originally worn on Marine Nationale dive watches; she sought to find an old parachute harness to harvest the elastic straps when she came into contact with someone with connections to the French Air Force who was able to supply her with a stockpile of unused parachute static lines from the ’60s and ’70s.
“Originally the Marine Nationale divers used a simple fixed loop on their watches but since that does not allow you to adjust the strap I started to experiment with different designs,” Kelder says. She eventually decided on an ingenious solution: a loop with a hook-like buckle that fastens to a metal keeper. This retains the basic look of the classic Marine Nationale strap but allows the wearer to make micro-adjustments. Further, since the buckle latches on at the edge of your wrist, not in the center at the bottom, the buckle won’t scratch or rub against desk or table tops. “After some research, I was shocked that nobody thought of this before,” she says. “I knew something special had formed under my hands I was able to patent the design.”
Erika’s Originals straps are made from actual vintage parachute material (though some of her lines, she notes, use new elastic material) and are double-saddle stitched by hand with French linen, but the use of parachute static line is more than just a marketable piece of military-inspired cool. According to Erika, the material is a webbing of latex and nylon, lending itself to a soft construction that comfortably conforms to the wrist while remaining durable and excelling at regulating moisture. This makes the material particularly suitable as a summer strap option, as the elastic expands as your wrist swells in the heat.
Kelder’s straps quickly became a hit online, thanks to Instagram. “Instagram was the thing that started it all for me,” she says. “My husband was extremely happy with the strap, and after he posted a picture of it on Instagram, I immediately received requests from all over the world. Soon after that, bloggers picked up on it and all kinds of reviews were published.”
Since Erika’s Originals is deeply engrained within the online watch-loving community, the lineup has expanded beyond the initial strap design with some help: “My loyal customer base has provided me with inspiration and input that allows me to come up with new ideas…I get amazing moving customer feedback via social media. As of now, Erika’s Originals offers an incredible degree of customizability. In addition to choosing a strap that’s cut to your wrist’s measurement, Kelder says 26 color options are available with several centerline stitching options, even including one that’s luminous. Five hardware options are available as well to best suit your watch.
Kelder is always thinking about where she can take her straps next, and how she can improve upon her initial design. She’s soon to release straps in 26mm width to accommodate massive watches from brands Like Panerai and Bell & Ross, and she designed a strap in collaboration with the US SWCC, a special warfare division within the Navy. According to Kelder there’s even more to come shortly: “For the next 12 months I have some very interesting collaborations planned, and I have a lot of new evolutionary ideas that will take shape.”