Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean review! This weekend, I’m taking a look at some handcrafted straps from local strapmaker, Yi Leather.
In the realm of handcrafted straps, the offerings from Yi Leather are actually pretty affordable! Are they any good though? Let’s find out.
Yi Leather – the Brand
To know more about Yi Leather, I sent founder Shuyi some questions.
1) Tell us more about Yi Leather, and what you hope to achieve.
YL: Yi Leather as its name says Y-you I-individual. The company was created taking the last two letter from my name Shuyi. I started Yi leather on the basis that everyone could own a strap that’s custom and handmade but with a reasonable price point.
2) How did Yi Leather start?
YL: Anything that’s hands on arouses my curiosity just like mechanical watches. I like watches and leather stuff. I took up a leather keyholder making session at Atelier Lodge and I was hooked to it. Buying tools and leather online was a breeze and I started making simple leather products for friends and family with some basic tools. I took a leap of faith hoping to combine both interest watches and leather together!
3) In your opinion, what should one look out for when buying a watch strap?
YL: I am a design over anything person. First it has to be what I like. Then I look at some fine details such as the stitching like if the moveable keeper is stitched or not. Anything that is stitched last longer when it’s subjected to usage. Most importantly it has to be comfortable and wearable on your wrist.
4) Can you elaborate more about the leather used in your straps, as well as the craftsmanship involved?
YL: The leathers comes from various sources like from the states, some Italian leather which can be sourced locally. I used quite a variety of leather like waxy leather for its 2 tone effect, suede, distressed style leather for the vintage look, crocodile and other reptile leather such as lizards. There isn’t like an exact combo for the straps I made. Sometimes I used various colours for the lining to give it the thickness that my customers wants.
I considered myself still pretty new in the leathercraft industry and am still learning and trying different ways to craft straps. All straps are handmade from scratch to finished. It’s handcut, skive if need to, and handstitched.
5) Lastly, which is your personal favourite strap to craft?
YL: Till date I am in love with the green distressed leather and the light brown distressed leather which is so versatile on most watches.
Yi Leather – Review
Shuyi was kind enough to send over two of her handcrafted straps – the aforementioned light brown distressed leather strap, as well as a exotic blue sharkskin one.
Yi Leather describes this strap as “a perfect match for any occasion”, and that the strap is “a perfect vintage style for your watches”. Due to the distinctly vintage styling of this strap, I decided to pair it with my beloved Omega Geneve from the 1970s.
How do you differentiate a low quality leather strap, and one of superior quality? Check if you can see the grains of the leather are visible. If they are, it is likely to be a full or top grain leather, and will patina wonderfully with age. Cheap straps (or in the case of Hirsch, expensive straps) found in watch stores are often made of “genuine”, or corrected, leather. The surface of the leather is uniform, devoid of soul, and one do not see the grains of the leather. Stay clear away from those. Here, no two straps will be identical – each strap will look slightly different as different portions of the hide is used, resulting in different grain patterns.
As this is a handcrafted strap, both strap and buckle width, as well as strap length, can be customised. Ever felt that some of the off the rack straps you bought previously are too large for your wrist? This will not occur here. Each of the strap holes are also punched individually by hand, making it clear even from a glance that this is an artisanal piece.
The leather inner lining of the strap is comfortable on the wrist, and feels premium. It’s certainly a far cry from the cardboardy texture of the linings found on off the rack straps! In addition, I quite like the olive green/light brown colour combination here – there’s a pretty retro vibe to it. In addition, the edges are “whipstitched” -by hand- for a vintage look.
The sides of the strap are hand-painted with edge dye, and thereafter smoothed by hand. This is a painstaking process that takes leather artisans hours to do. In addition, the strap loops on this strap comes hand-stitched for greater durability.
Overall, I think that this is a great value proposition! For just S$88 (after promo code below), it’s probably one of the best strap options you can find for under S$100. Despite being priced similarly (sometimes cheaper) than off the rack brands such as Hirsch, this distressed strap by Yi Leather is definitely better in both leather quality and craftsmanship. I find this colour to be pretty versatile as well – it will probably pair well with a whole host of different watches! For those interested, the product link can be found here.
Next, Shuyi also sent me a simply gorgeous blue sharkskin strap. Unfortunately, this is currently out of stock at the moment (sharkskin is hard to source ethically), which is a shame as I think this is the favourite strap that I’ve worn thus far, period.
First, let’s take a look at the texture of this sharkskin strap – it’s simply unlike anything that I’ve seen before. As such, I’m not quite sure how to describe it, other than jaw-dropping. The scales look like fissures! It’s certainly a unique pattern and texture that I’ve not seen on any other exotic leather strap till date. A lot of “sharkskin” straps are actually embossed calf leather – judging by the depth and the definition of the striations here, I’m pretty confident that this is legit sharkskin.
Apart from the texture, the colour is simply splendid too. It’s iridescent in sunlight, yet dark, almost midnight blue otherwise. Again, I’ve not seen such a colour on any other strap till date – and that’s saying a lot, given the fact I’ve probably seen and handled over 100+ straps. There’s a majestic, luxurious quality to the colour and texture of this strap. As such, I’ve paired it with perhaps the dressiest watch I own – a vintage gold-filled Mido Multistar. And boy, does it make the watch shine! If the Mido is Barack Obama, I think it’s safe to say that the strap is Michelle.
As compared to the “whipstitching” found in the earlier strap, this sharkskin strap features full stitching. As the name suggest, full stitching (especially when done by saddle-stitching, which Yi Leather does) is a painstaking and highly laborious process. As compared to off the rack straps, hand-stitched straps usually feature thicker, more prominent stitching. Here’s a tip – to different between machine stitched (mass produced) and hand-stitched (artisanal) straps, look at the inner stitching. If the stitching on the underside of the strap is smaller/thinner than that of the exterior, the strap is machine stitched.
Similar to the aforementioned strap, this sharkskin strap also uses a leather inner lining. Again, the lining is comfortable on the skin, and luxurious to the touch. In addition, the strap loops are hand-stitched as well for added durability.
Lastly, the sides on this sharkskin strap is also hand-painted, hand-burnished, and smoothed by hand. As such, when you run your fingers along the side of the strap, it feels smooth to the touch. Unlike cheaper, off the rack straps, the side dye here is consistent and thorough. These are subtle differences, but when you compare straps like these with an off the rack Hirsch strap, the difference is stark.
All in all, this sharkskin strap is easily the best strap that I’ve ever worn. This may sound silly, but wearing this strap gives me confidence, the same way a properly fitted suit or a Cartier Tank does. It makes me feel like a shark from Shark Tank. This straps evokes emotions, and while that is commonly said about watches, it is far less commonly used to describe straps. Amazing. It wasn’t even that expensive as well – when it was in stock, I believe the MSRP (before promo code) was just S$178! That’s cheaper than some of the Hirsch straps you can find off the rack! It’s an insane bang-for-buck for an exotic strap. For those interested in this blue Shark skin strap, the product link is here.
Conclusion – so Yi Leather “shiok” or not?
Without a shadow of a doubt, hell yes. I honestly think that Yi Leather provides some of the best value handcrafted straps out there. As aforementioned, despite the artisanal nature of their straps, the price tags are very affordable – regular straps can be had for just S$88 (after promo code below), while more exotic options top out at only S$162 (after promo code below). This makes their straps cheaper than some of Hirsch’s off the rack offerings! Comparing apples to apples, Yi Leather offerings are almost half the price of other strapmakers such as Jason & Sherron – a crocodile strap would run you at least S$300 over at J&S! Sure, J&S is more established, but Yi Leather is not too shabby as well, having been in the leather crafting business for over 5 years. To me, Yi Leather straps are the perfect combination of value, leather quality, and craftsmanship.
For those interested, the promo code “WAHSOSHIOK” will grant you 10% off all products from Yi Leather! After the discount, their straps can be had for a steal. This blue sharkskin strap genuinely wowed me from the moment I laid eyes on it, and more than 4 months later, my heart still flutters every time I strap it on. It’s now back in stock, and can be had here.
View Yi Leather’s full range of offerings here.
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!