Nov 2, 2017

Stuff to know about leather grades when shopping online for straps

Have you ever noticed that any olive that you are likely to encounter in real life has a size grade that makes it seem big?
Or were you around when the FDA suddenly changed the "ice milk" category to "low-fat ice cream"?
These kinds of offical gradings are heavily influenced by industry pressures.
I bought a leather watch strap the other day off of Amazon. The strap was a thick strap with Panerai-style buckle. Everything about it is fine, except the texture of the leather is really weird, and not very leather like. Had I been scammed and given pleather or some other fake leather product?
The back of the strap was stamped "Genuine Leather." That's good, right? Turns out, no. Here's what I've learned since about leather.
o "Full-grain leather" is the good stuff.
o "Top-grain leather" has the top split off and is sanded and stamped with a new fake leather texture or is painted with a texture.
o "Genuine leather," what I bought, is the plywood of leather. The odds and ends of the lower layers of leather are glued together in a Nutraloaf fashion and bonded into a sheet which is sanded down to be smooth. The texture may be suede-like. If it's not suede-like, that's even worse, since some sort of additional processing was involved. This stuff is never going to look good nor age well.
The straps sold by small craftsmen, such as the stuff here on Massdrop, is no problem. But beware stuff sold online that doesn't explicitly say full-grain leather or have a photo of the craftsman working with an obviously full-grain hide.
A similar situation obtains with carbon fiber watch cases. Real carbon fiber is formed from sheets of carbon fiber fabric molded into plastic. But in general, carbon fiber watch cases contain powderized carbon fiber mixed into plastic. This weakens the plastic rather than strengthening it, but it allows for the marketing department to call the plastic "carbon fiber."

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Building on this - who sells the best leather straps online? Does anyone have a preferred spot? I have one from Bandrbands I've been happy with, but in the market for another.

Anyone have experience with leather Natos? I have to fold back much of a Nato with my smaller wrist size, and seems like that wouldn't quite work with leather if it was any sort of quality.
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These are all from my watch straps links folder. I have a couple of straps on order, but have not personally seen any of these yet. I think they all offer at least some full-grain leagther straps. For stuff like ammo-bag straps, the makers may not even know what the original material was, although many of the fakey manufacturing and processing techniques are probably recent and were not around in the past.

Besides DeLuca, and specifically designated full-grainend products from B and R, there's Vulture Premium, who've done about three drops here, obviously use full-grain hides, from Horween, Tochigi Leather, and probably their Italian stuff (I want to try a band from their camouflage ltalian leather: the incongruity of a kitschy camo pattern on full-grain leather is too funny to pass up). Eternal Leather of Hong Kong has done a watch pouch drop here, but they also do straps and will do custom straps from their Etsy page.

Dangerous9 gets into full-grained but "e-mail for the price" territory. There's SNPR. The Strap Smith, and Aaron Bespoke. I don't know about Clover Straps: They say genuine leather, but the guy might just not know the terminology, since I can't believe he'd put such effort into something with inferior materials.

Here are some promising makers from a quick Google search: Martú, Vintager Straps by Micah, Bas & Lokes, Stevo's Straps, Erica's Originals, Toshi Straps, Camille Fournet, ABP Concept, Ted Su, Greg Stevens Design, GasGasBones, Popov Leather, Equis Leather, DStrap, Jack Foster, Di Stephano, Julien Landa, Europelli, Strap Culture, Dirk Straps, (Ryan) Gordon Straps, NeroStraps, and various people on Etsy.

To-do: Ashland, District, Maratac, Guarded Goods, Triwa, NATO Strap Co., Hides and Stitches.

Edit: I went over to the Horween website, and they have a detailed chart listing the characteristics of their three or four dozen leather products. Chromexcel, Dublin, and Derby are all full-grain; Genuine Shell Cordovan is not full-grain, it's probably a high-quality top grain leather, as the description says that it is shaved ("to expose the shell") horsehide. Also, neither their Basketball nor Football tannages are full grain, but their Glove leather is full grain. Depending on the use and the characteristics desired (e.g., uniformity of surface texture, impregnation with various kinds of goop), full grain may not be the best in all cases, perhaps. Or maybe it's simply a price issue. In all, Horween has over two dozen full-grain tannages, and I expect that some may not be appropriate for watch bands, but it's too bad that the same few types are seen over and over and these other tannages are never seen in straps (e.g., Shrunken Grain, Longrider)
More videos, Vulture Premium and Dangerous9 (The Lawrence of Arabia of strap maker promotional videos):

What's that cool watch that the Dangerous9 guy is wearing in his video? See here:
A cautionary tale. Thanks for the information.
Not an endorsement, since I haven't bought from this company, but via @kpjimmy I found online, and I noticed that they have quite a few bands that they specifically identify as "full-grain leather" in their descriptions, sometimes identified as Italian leather or with the brand name of Horween, for between $60 and $80, which is much cheaper than the boutique hand-made suppliers (unless you buy them here on Massdrop).

I'd stay away from anthing labeled as being "suede," unless you really like that look and feel.

Also, I'm suspicious of their Croco bands, which they describe as "crafted from full-grain Italian leather with a laser-cut crocodile pattern." Since full-grain leather has its own texture, it seems weird to overlay a fake croco pattern on it. But maybe it's legit.
I've run across those types of straps also. I guess that's why there's are large variation in price.
That's great info and definitely explains the lower cost genuine leather straps that I see (and have bought) vs. leather straps that cost well over $150. Just last night I discovered Equus leathers in England with some incredible craftsmanship, and prices to match. Thanks for the insights. I'll need to do some reading.
Nice article... thanks Clo, this should be handy for many around here
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