From sturgeon to watch strap

The exquisite sturgeon leather made in Bern, exclusively for RB Baumgartner watches

Sabina Brägger, a young designer from Bern, has devoted herself entirely to the sturgeon. In her small but exquisite atelier in Riedbach, she creates jewellery and accessories from the skin of sturgeons from the Tropenhaus in Frutigen. Sabina’s range includes belts, bags, bracelets, key cases, iPhone covers… and watch straps.

Sabina Brägger in front of her atelier in Riedbach


Why sturgeon leather?

When asked why Sabina chose the leather of the primitive bony fish of all things, the young Bernese begins to tell us: “As a designer, I often find myself in an uncomfortable predicament. On the one hand, I want to realise my visions of new products; on the other hand, I am bothered by consumers’ lack of awareness regarding the origin and the often questionable way of production. It is a difficult balancing act for me to expand the market with my ideas and at the same time avoid the wasteful use of resources.” Sabina has always been interested in leather and its processing. The idea to work with sturgeon leather came about after a visit by her mother to the Tropenhaus in Frutigen.

The Tropenhaus Frutigen is considered a pioneer in the field of sustainable fish farming in land-based aquacultures in Switzerland. At the centre of the facility is an efficient, professional production facility for breeding freshwater fish and producing sturgeon meat and caviar. The 18-degree warm, high-quality water from inside the Lötschberg base tunnel provides the ideal environment for the Siberian sturgeon. The fish farm is primarily used to produce the unmistakable Swiss Alpine caviar and sturgeon meat. But large parts of the rest of the fish are also used; the swim bladder is reused for pigment binding in oil painting and the collagen from the bones is further processed in the cosmetics industry. Even the little waste from the fish, the head and fins, is burnt in the farm’s own biogas plant. The resulting heat is used to heat the offices of the tropical house. Only the skin was not used until a few years ago. Sabina Brägger’s mum told her about the exciting tour of the tropical house and about the fact that the sturgeon’s skin is an untapped source of resources. Sabina then talked to the people in charge at the tropical house, who immediately agreed to make sturgeon skins available to her. That was the starting signal for Sabina Brägger’s sturgeon skin processing.

Sabina and her sturgeon friends in the Tropenhaus Frutigen


From the first attempts to the prototype

The first attempts to work with the leather brought some challenges to light. Since the fish does not have scales but bone plates, great care is needed to prevent the horn plates from coming out or breaking off. It is important for the comfort of the final product that there are no sharp edges left. The fine re-hooks on the fish skin would constantly get caught in the clothing, which is why Sabina Brägger grinds each piece of sturgeon leather smooth before processing.

After a few prototypes, the likeable Bernese professionalised the production of the watch straps. Today, Sabina Brägger needs just one hour for a simple, flat bracelet and 1.5 to 2 hours for the crowned one. How are the RB Baumgartner sturgeon bracelets made? First Sabina draws the bracelets on the computer. Then they are cut individually by a cutter machine. This makes it possible to produce a wide variety of sizes. The wristbands have to be “thinned out” in some places to make them more tactile. This is done with a conventional grinding machine. Before the cut and sanded watch bands are sewn, Sabina folds and glues the two parts together. Then the old, venerable sewing machine comes into play and sews the two halves together. Last but not least, Sabina plasters the cut edges evenly and sews the bows together by hand.


What are the advantages of sturgeon leather?

So what exactly are the advantages of sturgeon leather over other types of leather? One big advantage is obvious and obvious: Sturgeon leather is waterproof and there are no unsightly sweat marks. Also, the leather does not go rancid and is very durable due to the vegetable tanning. Because there are no identical pieces of sturgeon skin, the product is unique – like a fingerprint – sometimes the leather has a lot of structure, sometimes less. The beautiful patina of the sturgeon leather, which intensifies over the years, is certainly also unique. The leather is naturally tanned with the natural plant substance Mimosa and is thus stronger in handling. Because the leather is neither bleached nor further treated, it is very comfortable to wear on the skin and does not trigger any allergic reactions.

The watch straps from RB Baumgartner are unique in the truest sense of the word and go with every watch, from the timeless and elegant to the sporty. And the best thing about it is that the straps are not only Swiss made, but even Bern made.

Sturgeon leather watch strap


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