Time is currently not a luxury that Shawn enjoys like most of us. After a full day’s work at his job at a building and construction company, his nights often begin with spending a few precious minutes with his wife and ten-month-old daughter inside their Chicago apartment. These fleeting moments are then followed by anywhere from 4-5 hours working late into the night on his beautifully crafted, hand-made watch straps for his brand, Strapped Watch Company. Yet it wasn’t necessarily Shawn’s work ethic and evident passion that intrigued us about his story, rather it was his philosophy and approach to his craft, along with his humble and genuine disposition, that drew us in.
Shawn grew up as one of those kids who loved to build things, take things apart, and put everything back together again. He’s a self-described “tinkerer” who spent his younger years woodworking and constructing BMX bike ramps. For his birthday, rather than the latest computer game console or electronic device, Shawn instead asked for a tool set, which his parents gladly purchased for him – after thoughtfully removing the box cutter that was included. This explains why he immediately proceeded to pull out a large bag of strap-making tools when we sat down to talk, which Nick proceeded to photograph. For as long as he can remember, he’s had a fascination with deconstructing how things work, which has translated well into his 9 to 5 career in building and construction management.
Two years ago while on assignment to a project in California, Shawn found himself with a lot of spare time on his hands. Looking for something to do to keep busy, he turned to mechanical watches. Shawn appreciated then, as he does now, the engineering and design that goes into a fine timepiece – the wheels, gears, and levers that comprise the movement of a watch; working together in harmony along with a well-machined case and artistic dial, to create a beautifully finished product. Before long he was captivated with watches, but didn’t yet possess a Swiss made timepiece, although it wasn’t for lack of trying…
On his first attempt – for a Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller he found on eBay – he ended up having to request a full refund from PayPal after the seller failed to ship the watch. Being that integrity is a huge part of Shawn’s personal values and business philosophy, he eventually went the route he should’ve gone in the first place: Purchasing a watch from the hands of a trustworthy authorized dealer. The watch he bought was a Panerai PAM 299, that came on a brushed steel bracelet, which he immediately sought to pull apart and inspect – after all, it’s in Shawn’s nature to figure out how things work.
One afternoon, in the office of a colleague and fellow Paneristi, Shawn noticed a pencil tin full of straps of differing colors and materials, which led him to explore the myriad of strap options available to Panerai lovers around the world. Yet as he researched straps online, he was not impressed. To Shawn, the straps available were either poorly made or lacked the character and timely delivery that he desired. In the absence of a truly exceptional strap at an accessible price point, Shawn followed his instincts and set out to create what he believed to be a worthy piece of craftsmanship.
He described his strap-making process as “an evolution of techniques” beginning first with the study of YouTube videos and honed over the course of one year. Trial and error were necessary evils as Shawn delved deeper into his new craft, first acquiring the tools and materials required to fabricate his creations and then refining the critical elements of his design and finishing. Admittedly, the first couple of straps produced were “pretty crappy” yet as he iterated and tried new techniques, Shawn was ultimately able to produce straps that satisfied both his demanding aesthetic requirements and his quest for quality of the highest level.
Fast forward to today… Strapped Watch Company has grown into a thriving business and developed a loyal customer base. Shawn believes in the importance of community when it comes to realizing his vision and regularly interacts with his customers over social media platforms such as his Instagram @strappedwatchco, where his #freestrapsaturday giveaways are renown for introducing new collectors to the brand. When asked about his take on the types of watch enthusiasts that come to him for straps, he says that “about 50% are big into micro brands, 25% are into Panerai, and the rest own popular brands such as Rolex, Omega, and vintage timepieces.” We had the pleasure to speak with a few of Shawn’s customers who live locally. They all sung the same tune about Shawn; that he is a “great guy with a huge amount of integrity” who will “go out of his way to get your strap just the way you want it.” As we were conducting this interview, Shawn indeed offered to make some small adjustments to a custom tan chromexcel two-piece strap that he created for me recently.
With so much talk about straps, you’re probably wondering what’s the next watch for Shawn… He has his eye on two, although he hasn’t quite decided on which one: A transitional Speedmaster ref. 145.022 with applied logo, but cal. 861 movement or a birth year ref. 5513 Submariner. What he does know is that what started as a task born of boredom and frustration has quickly morphed from a fledgling muse into a true passion of his that he has no intention of stopping.
As he held his PAM 299, I caught a glimpse of the small scratches and dings in the case, as well as a few chips in the crystal, which tell me that this watch embodies the life of it’s owner – who is a true craftsman. Shawn’s tireless efforts result in the creation of wonderfully unique and beautiful straps that are able to bring out the hidden character our timepieces sometimes don’t reveal on their own. Yet when affixing these straps to your watch, you can’t help but feel that they’re a pure and direct reflection of the care and dedication he puts forth into his work. A reflection of his own character, indeed.
* photograph with Steve McQueen in the background courtesy of @lovechicity