To shoe aficionados, the name Stefano Bemer is uttered in hushed, reverent tones. Known to the few, Bemer was indisputably one of the finest shoemakers on the planet, based in Florence and adored from Tokyo to Manhattan. But the secret was blown when it was revealed that Daniel Day Lewis’s year of retreat was spent learning the cobbler’s arts from Bemer himself.

Bemer passed away in 2012, but the company, now owned by Tommaso Melani, continues with staff trained by the maestro. Melani is a watch enthusiast, hooked since the age of four when he saw a Mickey Mouse watch in a store. “When I was 16, I got my first Rolex, a Submariner, and I started trading one watch to get another. I’m now into complications – but how many watches I have, I don’t want to know!” His day-to-day choice is a Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5712.

As a watch guy with a team that understands the workings of leather to a degree of mastery unparalleled in the world of luxury, straps are a natural extension of the brand. “Customising with leather is what I spontaneously do every day. Looking at how to make a watch more personal – or just better. It all started with a rose-gold Audemars Piguet, because I couldn’t find the strap I wanted. A person buys a pair of shoes to make him look the way he wants to be seen. A watch strap is exactly the same. And with a strap that I design, it really looks like me.”

Bemer straps are made entirely in-house. Although every hide one could imagine is used, crocodile dominates. Says Melani, “There is nothing you can invent – it’s cutting hides, it’s a piece of leather. We cut it horizontally using the ‘Italian Cut’, whereas the more conventional ‘French Cut’ is vertical. We cut on the seam so it runs vertically like a scar. Our keepers’ pattern is co-ordinated with the pattern on the strap. The details make a difference with everything in life. Customers want you to exceed their expectations.”

Looked after by Bar Termini’s Sophie and William, who kept the flow of espresso and negronis coming, the quartet of Andrew Luff, Mo Coppoletta, Anish Bhatt and Ahmed Rahman oozed passion, knowledge and enthusiasm. Melani chose a tough audience to undertake his “audition”.

Mo Coppoletta

Co-owner of Bar Termini and The Family Business in Clerkenwell (London’s original Little Italy), Coppoletta is one of the foremost tattoo artists alive today. “I’m doing less and less,” he says, “because I am dedicating a lot of time to my new venture – design – so I can’t tattoo as much as I used to. These days I collaborate a lot with brands on products and design direction. And I am working with three watch brands, which I can’t reveal at the moment.”

His path to watches was biological. “Being Italian, you get into watches at a very early age. The early-to-mid 1980s was the big time for collecting in Italy – everyone had a Rolex or a Breitling and the passion for watches became a natural thing. Then I left it to pursue other passions and came back strong in 2007. I saw a report from SIHH on Italian television about Jaeger- LeCoultre. I was hooked by the Squadro and then the rest followed.

“When it comes to watches, I go through dry spells and then one thing will kick off the passion again. It is mainly independents – De Bethune, Kari Voutilainen, the Gronëfelds and Sarpaneva – that inspire me.”

Now the possessor of “a pretty good collection”, Coppoletta adores fine fashion and shoes. He met Melani at a Bemer show in Milan. “I bought some shoes and we became friends. His straps are beautiful. People overlook straps but I think they are 50 per cent of the look of a watch. I always match my watches to what I am wearing and when I choose a good strap it stays on for a while – but then I change it.”

Andrew Luff

When asked: “What do you do?” Jersey-based, man-of-mystery Andrew Luff replies: “There is no definitive answer. A bit of this, a bit of that. But in my spare time I live and breath watches. About a decade ago, I spent five years living in Geneva where everything is about watches and I got hooked. I always liked watches but the obsession started 11 years ago. Hublot was one of my first big watch buys. They launched the Big Bang in 2005 and I was one of the first customers. I bought two watches, I met Jean-Claude Biver and we hit it off and we became real friends. Now I organise dinners and events for Hublotista, the Hublot Owners Club.”

Luff doesn’t count his watches – “maybe 20 or so that I wear” – but reveals that “I buy them because they are orange – all of my watches have something orange on them! I have this Kari Voutilainen [shown in these pictures], an Audemars Piguet, a Ulysee Nardin, an MCT, and of course, Hublots. All of which were made as unique orange pieces.”

Mystery aside, Luff is clearly a successful businessman but his style is “casual 95 per cent of the time. I always have something orange on – socks, belt… the majority of the time I wear my watches on straps rather than bracelets. Tommaso’s straps are special because of the skins, the colours and the cuts. I’ve never seen straps cut this way before.

“This Voutilainen is quite a heavy watch and you need to be able to have a strap that is both tight and comfortable. The blue colours in this strap pick up the blue in the dial.” And let’s not forget a hint of orange.

Anish Bhatt

Bhatt is the watch world’s social media king. “I am lucky enough to do stuff that I like and get paid to do it. I have been interested in watches since I was about 18. I was working in the fashion industry at the time and ended up working for a particular company in the US.

“It was when the street style blogs were taking off. I thought it would be cool to do something similar with watches, mixing lifestyle with high-end and vintage watches from the perspective of someone who knows and cares about watches, not just some random fashion guy.” Watch Anish on Instagram now has 1.7m followers.

“My first watch was a Vacheron; I now have about 60. I choose which one to wear depending on my mood, what I’m wearing, from high tops and jeans to suits. Style-wise I’m all over the place, either very street or Italian couture.”

Straps are a key part of this. “I swap straps a lot because it adds a different dimension to a watch. Watches come with the basic black, brown, or maybe blue, so throw a different colour at it and it becomes a completely changed watch.

“There’s a lot of people making fine leather goods but Stefano Bemer stuff really stands out. Because Tommaso is a collector, too, he has the eye for things we like. Especially in terms of straps – skins, combinations of colour. It was a great idea to make straps – an art in itself, being able to do this with taste and not just to shock. Just look at what he did with Andrew’s Voutilainen!”

Ahmed Rahman

Ahmed Rahman is the International Marketing Director of a fully vertical Bangladeshi clothing company. “We make everything from yarn and fabric all the way to garments, and we export these all over the world, mainly for high street brands. It keeps me busy and I travel a lot.

“I was bitten by the watch bug while in boarding school in the UK. My first proper watch was an Omega Seamaster, one that Pierce Brosnan wore in a Bond film. I fell in love with it and asked my parents to get it for me for my 18th birthday. But then I came to realise that they got me the quartz version and was quite disappointed.” Even then he was a watch guy: he changed it for the automatic.

Next came a vintage Heuer Monaco with blue dial and that hooked him on chronographs. Hating to hide watches away in storage, Rahman’s credo is: “Whatever I buy, I have to wear.” He favours Patek Philippe for perpetual calendars, Audemars Piguet for concept pieces and IWC for pilots’ watches. A big fan of 007, he tries to get all of the Bond watches.

“As part of the fashion industry, I like to wear my watches. For me, straps are part of my outfit. When you change the strap, you have a completely different watch. You can wear it with jeans or a dinner jacket. When you think of Bemer in terms of shoes, you’re always thinking they’re up there in quality, craftsmanship and design. I feel the same is reflected in their straps. The strap they made for this watch – you can see a lot of thought has gone into it. They do their research and they come up with something relevant to the wearer. It’s the attention to detail which makes the difference and sets them apart.”

All four of these connoisseurs are clearly captivated by the straps, which, says Tommaso, “will be available both bespoke and prêt-à-porter, especially with Panerai. It’s easier with Panerai owners, they change straps often. We actually started with Panerai.” And Panerai is, after all, Florentine. Like Stefano Bemer.