By Aaron Recksiek, CW21
The recession of 2009 was tough on many people around the world. Some lost their retirement accounts, their homes, or their jobs—and sometimes all three. It was also a very concerning time for the fine timepiece industry. Many small brands were closing their doors, and many large brands had substantial workforce layoffs. Amidst all the financial chaos, for some it was also a time of opportunity, to pursue a dream, including Greg Stevens of Greg Stevens Design.
Stevens made his first watch strap in 2005. He had been online constantly, perusing affordable watch enthusiast blogs and building a modest collection of personal watches. His need for a custom strap came about because he couldn’t find a commercial strap that fit just right. After experimenting with different methods and improving the finished product, Stevens was finally comfortable enough to offer his straps for sale. He listed some straps for sale on the same watch blogs he had been following. He sold two the first night, and one of his first customers came back a week later to purchase two more. His side business took off from there. His initial intent was just to get some extra spending money to fund his watch collection. In just a few short months Stevens was able to purchase a favorite watch—a Panerai PAM 000. As he puts it, “The whole strap culture really started with Panerai.” Many collectors wanted to customize the look of their watches, and there was a huge demand for a selection of straps that went beyond the traditional OEM offerings.
At the time, Stevens worked as a sales director for a large pest-control company in Utah. He is an outgoing person and enjoyed working with clients and his sales staff. In 2009, when finances with the company he worked for got tight, Stevens was laid off from his job. With a respectable workshop and client base already built, his wife told him he had six months to give the “leather thing” a go and that if they weren't making ends meet after six months, he’d have to go get a real job. Luckily for the watch community, Stevens worked hard and developed a product that has supported him ever since. That is what he is most proud of—the ability to do what he loves and support his family with a business he is passionate about.
With many years of success, Stevens decided to apply his design skills in designing a watch that would showcase his strap to his specifications. The first model, GSD-1, was a stainless steel 46mm case watch with 24mm lugs, sapphire crystal, and a Swiss manual wind ETA 6497 movement. The watches were assembled in Hong Kong and fitted with a custom GSD strap in his workshop before being sent out to the customer. In the initial run, Stevens sold around 100 pieces. Last year, he decided to do another run of the GSD-1, this time with a Japanese automatic Miyota 9015 movement. He kept all the case dimensions the same but increased the water resistance to 30 atm, and moved the strap holes inside the lugs farther away from the case to accommodate the incredibly popular, thicker leather NATO straps.
In the years since, Greg Stevens Design has expanded its offerings to many types of leather goods, including belts with buckles also made in the US. He also makes wallets, key fobs, and many other leather items. Straps continue to be his biggest seller, though, with sales over 1,000 per year. Stevens has also developed a relationship with Michael Kobold of Kobold Expedition Tools, and his straps have been featured on some of their models. He makes every possible effort to source leathers produced in the US by tanneries such as Horween, Wickett & Craig, and Hermann Oak Leather. The straps are priced from $175, and, being custom made, every strap is hand-finished and slightly unique, but they all follow Stevens’s philosophy that “your strap should be every bit as nice as your watch.”
I have known Greg Stevens for several years. He grew up in Utah and has lived there most of his life. He has been married to his wife, Heather, for 25 years, and they have three teenagers. He enjoys the outdoors; his favorite thing to do is spend time surrounded by the red rock in the southern part of his home state. You can follow Greg on Instagram: @gregstevensdesign. His straps and leather goods are available for sale on his website at www.gregstevensdesign.com.