The workshops of Mayfair are, for me, its hidden gems. Up above shoemakers GJ Cleverley, in the Royal Arcade, bespoke lasts are chiselled out of wood, and calfskin stretched over them, while in the Piccadilly Arcade bespoke shirt patterns are cut upstairs at Budd and suit patterns at tailors Benson & Clegg.
On the other side of the arcade from these latter two, at number 8, is French leather company Jean Rousseau. You might not think that much craftsmanship goes on in store, but in fact it is one of the few places in London where watch straps and other leather goods can be made on site, and from its low-ceilinged first floor you can see back across to Budd and Benson & Clegg; a community of makers is huddled in the rafters. Occasionally there’s a little wave from one to the other.
Rousseau’s workshop, with its sewing machines rather than paper and cloth, may not be quite as picturesque as its British neighbours, but having the space does mean that Rousseau can make bespoke watch straps (calfskin from about £75; alligator from about £180) in just a couple of weeks.
“Clients love the ability to pick from such a range of leathers and have them made exactly to their specifications,” says manager Cécile Bléas. Having had a couple made myself, I find it odd that I ever put up with the excess leather on a too-big strap, and had to tuck the overlap into a second loop. And then there are the colour options. I’m not the kind of person that would ever be tempted by bright-green lizardskin, but I can confess to owning a navy alligator strap that perfectly picks up the blue on the hands of my Cartier Tank Française.
This strap was selected from the wondrous “top drawer” at Rousseau, which contains a dozen or so alligator skins in different colours and treatments. One can pick not just the skin, but exactly which section the strap should be cut from. “It’s a personalised but also a personal touch,” says Bléas, who has come to know a lot of her regular customers quite well. Jean Rousseau also offers a service where a quick-release bar is inserted into each strap, allowing them to be swapped easily. “We have some clients who want a whole range of straps for each watch,” Bléas continues.
At a later appointment with Budd and the superb cutter Darren Tiernan, I glance over at Rousseau and see the painstaking work going on across the arcade. Such work is an aspect of London that needs to be treasured.