In 2015, Leatherman revolutionized the concept of the “wearable tool" with the release of the Tread.
A multi-tool with 25 different features that doubles as a stylish bracelet, the Tread created a design that bonded form and function, including everyday tools like hexes and wrenches.
Two years later, Leatherman is reintroducing the Tread Tempo, featuring a chic watch face integrated with the quality craftsmanship and tool selection that has made Leatherman the premier maker of fine multi-tools for generations.
We sat down with Leatherman’s Chris Fox and Carie Behe to discuss the inspiration behind the original Tread, the design of the Tempo, and what sets Leatherman apart from other wearable multi-tools.
What was the inspiration and the methodology behind the creation of the Tempo?
The idea started two years ago when our president and CEO, Ben Rivera, was on a family trip to Disneyland. They were in line to go through security and he had a Leatherman Skeletool on him, which has a knife blade on it. He had it on the outside of his pocket and flipped it to the inside while he was in line. Security saw it and told him he couldn’t bring it into the park, considering it a weapon, and they gave him the option to give it up or take it back to the hotel room. He spent the next few days in the park with his family thinking about what he could invent that would help break down the barrier of looking at a Leatherman as a weapon. Rivera has been with the company for 25 years, was Leatherman’s first engineer, and has had a hand in designing and developing every single tool in the Leatherman line.
What would something look like that could be taken into Disneyland, for example, or security at a basketball game, or an airport? He went home and soon came up with the idea of the Tread, the first wearable multi-tool. The variety of small tools are travel friendly and can go past security because there’s no knife blade and no scissors. It’s a very travel-friendly multi-tool because you won’t lose it and you can wear it through security with no issues. The bracelet was one of many ideas he came up with, but it was the one that made the most sense. The Tread Tempo just takes it to the next level.
Did you find challenges in creating a product that’s wearable and stylish but also functional?
We wanted to include as many tools as possible. We didn’t want to lose true multi-tool functionality. One of the ways we achieved that’s every link on that tool, 11 links total, can be added or removed depending on personal preference. Every part is metal injection molded: a powdered metal that gets molded like a plastic part but you end up with a strong metal part that’s used in other applications. It’s a common practice for jewelry, which we adapted for a multi-tool. We also used a heat treatable stainless steel that gives it extremely high strength, so you’re combining fashion in getting shapes that are sleek and sporty, but you’re also getting the strength of a multi-tool.
How do you disassemble and reassemble each tool?
Each link has threaded high-strength screws that connect the main links to each other. The reason we chose screws because they’re reliable, and Leatherman uses a lot of threaded fasteners, which are high-quality, high-strength, and makes assembly much easier. It helps the consumer unscrew each link and then screw links back together again; it’s easy to do. When we developed the screws we chose to go with a flathead screw head so you don’t need a screwdriver to get them apart, you could use a penny or another flat tool.
Can the wearable tools be customized for specific activities?
Yes they can. As you go through the tool, we have many different link combinations. We have Phillips and Flathead screwdrivers, several different box wrench sizes that would be used for more generic uses, and we also have hex tools that are built into the links as well, which is more of a bike application or being used in the garage. We have a second version of Tread that has metric tools on it, while the original had standard-size box wrenches. We added metric features based on requests. It has a range of tools that help you customize your bracelet based on what activities you come up against.
Is the Tempo’s watch adjustable to different wrist sizes?
In the first version, there were the main link sizes, which were about three-quarters of an inch long. We also had a half link, which was a quarter of an inch long, that gave some additional finer adjustment, so you could add or subtract links from the bracelet to achieve the optimal size on your wrist. When we shifted to Tempo, where we added the watch feature, we found there was a need for even more resolution in adjustment to get the right size on your wrist, so we enhanced the clasp and added additional fine tuned features, which allows you to get eighth-of-an-inch increments.
Can the watch adapt to other faces?
At present we have two versions: Silver and High Protective Coating. We don’t have a version that adapts to another watch model and the main reason is the way the product was designed. The bracelet is very high-strength. It’s durable and was built to Leatherman tool standards. As we thought about watch design, and what conditions this person is going to be using it in, we wanted to protect the timepiece, the watch, from any potential damage from torque or force. Designing the Tempo, much consideration went into style and how the watch looks, but also making sure we’re addressing any forces that are going into the watch—and we needed a custom interface to achieve that.
Was there a specific problem with wearable tools that the Tread and the Tread Tempo seek to address?
As we designed the product, the first issue was accessibility. Much went into why we wanted a bracelet rather than a belt or something you carry. The wrist is accessible. We want to handle any of the tasks you’re trying to accomplish. Some of the features, such as the bottle opener, you can use without taking the bracelet off, so the tools are very accessible. It’s easy to slip off, do what you need to do, and put it back on.
Can you tell us about the construction?
When you have a traditional metal watchband that you would wear on a normal watch, most of those parts are stamped in some way out of sheet metal. But the strength isn’t there—most of it’s pinned together and not very strong. With Tread and Tempo, the metal injection molding process is far superior in strength to a metal watchband. The molded process is taking metal powder, mixing it with plastic, injecting into a mold, and putting it through a furnace operation which melts the plastic out. You’re getting high strength and molding complicated shapes that you can’t get with stamping.
So when you look at Phillips Head screwdrivers, you look at hex and box wrenches, we would never have been able to achieve that without the injection mold process. You get a high quality part that’s functional and has performance and an appearance factor.
Once all the links get through the processes, the product is assembled by hand. The way the consumer would adjust the link is how the product is being assembled by hand in our shop. It’s a time consuming product to put together. We wanted to put out a product that was a wearable tool but meets the performance standard of our other products.
Can you recall a particular instance where the Tread Tempo played a role?
What I think Leatherman represents is being prepared for the unexpected. I wear a Tread most of the time because I find it useful. When my kid’s bicycle broke, it was a torque head bolt on the bike and I didn’t have my traditional toolkit—but I had my Tread Tempo and had the tool on my wrist to fix it.
When Tread first launched two years ago, it broke the multi-tool industry. It was game changing and there was nothing like it on the market: the world’s first wearable multi-tool. A lot of people loved it but they wanted a watch as well. Now the Tempo is here to help with that request.
When we first developed the product, I spent a lot of time flying and seeing “Where does TSA go with this?" The experiences were positive, with nobody asking me about it, meaning they didn’t challenge it. People asked me about it, but there was never a concern about it being taken away.