Crown & Buckle straps seem to be everywhere these days. An advertiser here on worn&wound, Crown & Buckle offers a wide array of affordable watch straps of all varieties, available through their online store. And while there are many resources for affordable watch straps online, Thomas Lathrop, the owner of the company, has managed to set Crown & Buckle apart from the crowd with a really user friendly site, aggressive marketing on websites and forums alike and, of course, high-quality products that are right at home on your sub-$100 Seiko or your $5K plus vintage piece. In fact, our friends at Analog/shift, an online vintage watch seller, pair many of their watches with Crown & Buckle NATO’s.
So why an interview? Well, we’re always intrigued when a young brand starts to make a name for itself, and having worked with Thomas and featured a few of his straps on worn&wound, we thought it would be interesting to shoot him a few questions about his business and passion for watches. So, without further adeau, here’s the interview.
W&W: What motivated you to open up a watch strap store online? Have you always aspired to own your own business and did you always want it to revolve around watches/watch accessories?
C&B: My entrepreneurial itch started in high school, when I began designing web sites for some local small businesses. By college, I was also doing event photography, but neither endeavor was ever a full-blown business. They were more of a way to earn some spending money. Eventually I realized I did not want to become a professional freelancer, and I ended up pursuing degree in Small Business & Entrepreneurship. After graduating, I worked in the corporate office of a fashion house here in Palm Beach. While my experiences there proved to be invaluable in running my own business, I soon realized that I wouldn’t be truly happy working for someone else.
When I finally set out to start my own business, I knew several things based on my past experiences. First, I did not want to do anything service-based. Second, I knew an eCommerce/online retail type business would play to my personal strengths, as I could use my past web design and photography experience to help launch the company with less start up costs. After exploring a handful of different product ideas (mostly based around my various personal hobbies) and much deliberation with family/friends/mentors, I ended up settling on watch straps. I was getting more and more involved with watches at the time, and it just felt right.
W&W: What’s your vision for Crown & Buckle, both short and long term? Anything new and exciting on the horizon?
C&B: In the short term, we are focusing on expanding our models and product offerings, such as the new line of short length straps that we have in the works (for those that are ‘wrist size impaired’ like me). In the long term, we would like to collaborate with other brands both inside and outside the watch world. We would also like to form more partnerships with like-minded start ups, similar to what we’ve been doing with our friends at Analog/Shift.
W&W: When did you first get interested in watches and how?
C&B: My very first watch experience was when I was 17. I had wanted a watch for a couple of months (I thought they looked cool). While at a local surf shop, I spotted their display of Freestyle watches. After a quick decision, I picked out my favorite of the bunch, which was a stainless steel sport model with an integrated bracelet and quartz movement. I wasn’t cognizant of any of this at the time. To this day, I still own the watch. Although I don’t wear it much anymore, it later became the basis for some modifications I wanted to try my hand at, such as sterilizing the dial and media blasting the case.
I did not get serious into watches until after college. A good friend of mine had an impressive collection of mid-range affordables that really caught my eye. He introduced me to Watchuseek and other forums. I was officially hooked after he helped me pick out my first “nice” watch, a vintage Hamilton automatic that I bought to wear for a special occasion. By that point I was smitten, and I dove into the affordable watch world. This allowed me to try out all sorts of watch styles, and it helped me figure out what I really like and dislike in watches. I sure wish worn&wound existed at the time, as it’s such a great resource for those in a similar situation.
W&W: What are some your favorite watches in your collection? Is there a particular style that you are more inclined to collect?
C&B: Just about every watch in my collection has a special part in my heart. Some of them have a story behind them and sentimental value (like my Freestyle and vintage Hamilton), while others just cover a segment of watch design that I admire (such as my Archimede Pilot). A few pieces are also special in that they represent the start of Crown & Buckle. My Bernhardt SeaShark, for example, was picked up specifically to use in photographs of the straps.
I am lucky to have a few heirloom watches as well. When I was becoming addicted to watches, it dawned on me that my dad always had a watch or two on his nightstand when I was growing up. Luckily he still had a couple of them, which he was thrilled to give me to help grow my collection. I’ve repaired and fixed them up (a Seiko and a Citizen from the 70’s or 80’s, both quartz). He also sent me my grandfather’s gold Bulova automatic from the 1960’s. It’s only about 32mm, so I don’t wear it often, but it is certainly one of my most cherished watches.
In general, my favorite watches are typically sport/dive/tool models. At this point, how well a watch looks on a strap is a large consideration when vetting a new watch purchase. Some watches just look natural on a strap. I still appreciate a nice metal bracelet now and then, but the vast majority of the time you’ll see me wearing leather or nylon.
W&W: What’s your grail watch? i.e. What’s the watch that you would love to get your hands on, but may never have the means/opportunity to?
C&B: Hands down – the Omega Speedmaster. It is such an iconic and (to me) beautiful watch that has truly withstood the test of time. It’s hard for me to believe that an item designed in 1957 could have such a modern appeal, and not just in a “vintage charm” kind of way. The Breitling Navitimer and Rolex Submariner are watches that have the same type of appeal. The Speedmaster is not particularly rare or hard to find, it’s just one that has eluded my collection so far.
I’ve also had a long time crush on the Panerai Luminor, especially the 1950 case. The simplicity of the dial and uniqueness of the case/crown guard are really striking. Furthermore, straps are almost as important as the watch itself in the Panerai world. My one reservation is that with my small wrist, the 44mm cases are a bit overboard, and the proportions of the 40mm cases aren’t as exciting to me. Perhaps a Radiomir would be a better choice in the future.