2 March 2009
Fashion-conscious men and women the world over are very particular about their watches - not just about the timepiece itself but also the watch band material, its colour, design, pattern and even stitching.
"The band must be a perfect match for the watch, and anybody buying an expensive watch is quite demanding about ensuring that each complements the other," says Frankie Tso, Managing Director of Banda Bracelets (HK) Ltd.
He says his firm is always on its toes, keeping up with the latest styles and trends. "For example, when we set up the business in 1978 watch straps were usually brown or black leather, and single-stitched," Mr Tso recalls. "Now they can come from a remarkably wide choice of materials, feature various colours and are usually custom-stitched."
Besides buffalo and calf-skin, watch bands are now produced from the skin of stingrays, sharks and other fish, ostrich, pythons, other snakes and lizards, Asian pecari (wild pig), elephants, alligators and crocodiles, and even seals.
Every consumer has his or her own preferences, which keeps Banda's R&D team at its Dongguan factory busy coming up with a constant flow of new ideas. "Fortunately our workforce of 250 includes many of the industry's most skilled leather workers, who specialise in producing perfectly stitched products that are appealing to the eye," Mr Tso claims.
His current success is largely due to a lucky break Mr Tso enjoyed soon after launching his company when he was approached by a Swiss watchmaker who was looking for a dependable supplier of good quality, reliable watch bands.
This gave Mr Tso a valuable toehold in Switzerland, where Banda set up an affiliate company to distribute its leather watch bands to buyers across Europe - particularly Germany, France and Switzerland.
Now Banda has a subsidiary in Pforzhiem, Germany, that oversees its European sales. "The Banda brand is also widely worn in other countries thanks to our industrious agents there."
Mr Tso believes Europe is still the best bet for sales growth, and is also looking to expand in Russia. "There are a lot of business opportunities there still," he maintains, adding that the oil-rich countries of the Middle East are also among his best customers.
Banda recently diversified into leather accessories for both sexes including belts and wallets, plus watch cases for enthusiasts who collect expensive watches as a hobby.
"Many successful businessmen and their wives like to keep up with the latest watch designs, and have large collections of stylish timepieces," Mr Tso explains.
"They change their watches at least once a day, but find it messy and insecure to keep their collections in a drawer."
As a result, they have become enthusiastic buyers of Banda's craftsmen-made leather cases and boxes, which come in all sizes catering for people with only a few expensive watches to collectors with a dozen or more valuable timepieces.
"We have an admirable international reputation for good quality products at a reasonable price, and I am confident that these strengths and associated initiatives such as watch cases will help us survive and prosper during the current economic downturn," Mr Tso concludes.
TEXT BY GEOFFREY SOMERS