Herren Marke: Leather strap venture born in the ocean

By Shane Snider, Editorial Director

Buford, GA —Ben Crumley’s love affair with watches and strap making started in a most unusual place – at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Georgia. While he wasn’t even there at the time, his father was diving with friends when he spotted something shimmering on the ocean floor.

He emerged with a bruised but still ticking Tag Heuer. He brought his catch home and showed his son. The year was 1989 and Crumley, now 33, was only 5 years old. As soon as he saw the timepiece, he realized it was something special.

“The watch was pretty beat up but still working – I was sold from then on,” said Crumley, owner of leather strap boutique Herren Marke. “Watches are about tying in emotion and memories. And for me, that year was one I’ll always remember.”

Unfortunately, not all the memories from that year were happy ones. A few months later, Crumley’s father Joe was involved in a hunting accident that left him paralyzed. “He hasn’t been able to dive since,” Crumley said with his voice cracking slightly. “So that watch became even more important to me.”

A special gift

Years later, Crumley, a computer engineer, still obsessed over watches. When he received a call from his father’s jeweler asking him to come pick up a watch, Crumley didn’t think much about it. He was used to picking up items for his dad. But this time, a surprise was waiting for him: Joe Crumley had the watch serviced and cleaned and gave the jeweler instructions.

“The jeweler said: “Your dad wants you to have this,” Crumley recalled. “That’s what really got me into watches. It was just an amazing surprise and it brought back a flood of memories.”

Over the next few years, he purchased several of his favorites: a Tag Heuer Aquaracer, a Rolex GMT Master II (aka. “The Batman”), and a Zenith El Primero Pilot. He enjoyed changing the straps on his watches often but was never satisfied with straps he bought from aftermarket vendors.

“I just thought, man, I paid two hundred bucks for this thing — I think I could do it better,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into. There are a lot of tools you have to have — a leather splitter, press, blades, so many tools. A band looks simple, but it’s a very complicated process. I just didn’t realize how many tools you would need.”

Mixing business with leather

So, Crumley started his own leather business, and dug into his family’s German heritage for a name. “Herren Marke in German means gentleman’s mark.” After spending hours and hours watching leather working videos on Youtube, Crumely started experimenting with different methods and styles.

From his home office, Crumley churns out custom orders for discerning clients. He specializes in simple straps with a vintage feel and tailored fit — using top quality 100 percent leather and premium oil-based dyes. “It’s important to me that the quality is there. I don’t want them to have a mass-produced feel.”

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Herren Marke owner Ben Crumley works on a new strap for a customer.

Choosing the leather itself is quite a chore. While he could easily find a leather distributer online, he prefers to work with a local tannery – hand selecting cordovan and horween leathers and inspecting quality in person. It’s a process that adds time and expense, but Crumley said the outcome is worth the extra effort.

“I just like to take things a step further,” he said.

While Crumley has only been in business for a year and a half, he’s happy with how things are progressing. In 2018, he will take some time to focus on research and development for future straps and other leather goods.

And as his business grows, he’ll always keep his Tag Heuer with the memorable story at his side. “It’s how this all started,” he said.

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You can find Herren Marke’s handmade straps here: Herren Marke

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Comments

  1. Very interesting and cool to see high quality straps being made by hand. A skill I do not have but really appreciate in others. Great read. Thanks for the article.

  2. Great article and nice photos. I just ordered a leather strap from Ben today; he was very thorough in checking my sizing, stitching color and leather style/materials. Also exceptionally fast follow-through and communication. Looking forwward to this strap!

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