Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?
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Thread: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

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  1. #1
    Member JonnyPD's Avatar
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    Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    Hey everyone, just wanted to bring up a topic that can maybe go into a bit more detail as to what 'Genuine Leather' is, and what it entails, along with some sort of subjective grades it can be put in. I think most people would agree that 'Genuine Leather' can be quite ambiguous, and straps stamped 'Genuine Leather' vary ever so greatly in quality. So I'll make this as much of a statement, as I pose a question as well.

    So here is my understanding from my research, after I started to go into the seedy leather underworld to find the true meaning of the word.

    From what I understand, and correct me if I am wrong, 'Genuine Leather' is quite bad. Only really a step up from bonded leather, but even then, the lines are blurred sometimes. Many manufacturers, especially Chinese manufacturers, mark all their straps as 'Genuine Leather' but we know that this is deceiving, and usually you get what you pay for, so chances are it might be polyurethane. But putting the deceivingly marked Chinese straps aside, lets say we have a $8 Timex 'Genuine Leather' croc embossed strap. Is it safe to assume that the leather is split leather? Perhaps there is a low grade cut of leather, I am assuming the scraps of top-grain and full-grain leathers, and it is very fibrous. They take this cut under the top-grain, and cover it in a polyurethane coating, and emboss a crocodile, lizard, or some other calfskin template on the PU. Is it safe to assume that this is what the majority of simply put, 'Genuine Leather's' are?

    I recently bought a top-grain aniline dyed leather strap, and I have immediately noticed the difference in quality. It was dyed with a soluble dye, so it keeps the grain of the leather on top, just changes the color. Even then, it shows signs of being an unfinished or very lightly finished top-grain leather strap, as it doesn't appear that they have done anything more than a light brushing on it, so maybe this is what piqued my interest. I am aware that many of the more expensive, independent and hand-crafted leather strap suppliers generally use full-grain, or top grain aniline dyed leather, or sometimes natural vegetable tanned and colored leathers. But with all this being said, is it really safe to assume that companies like Hadley-Roma, or even Seiko, Citizen, Tissot, etc, all create or use suppliers that produce standard low-grade 'Genuine Leather' that has a plain embossed PU coating? Maybe I'm just disappointed after doing all this research on it, but it seems like some of the more affordable watches, use this deceiving type of leather. After-all, if it is PU coated and embossed, and with the addition that most 'Genuine Leather' straps are padded, with a thin suede or PU belly, is it safe to assume that there is very little real (albeit poor) leather in the strap in the first place?

    The more I do research into leather, and grades of leather, the more I realize, and the more I am told about the complexity of the process. Any comments, corrections or additional information as it relates to Genuine Leather would be appreciated. Thanks!

    (Edit; some of the things I say are a bit hyperbolic, and just to be clear, I am not saying all genuine leather is shotty, I know there are decent genuine leather straps out there, just talking about the 'mainstream' ones)
    Last edited by JonnyPD; March 20th, 2017 at 22:34.

  2. #2
    Member Karkarov's Avatar
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    Most watch makers, especially the ones pushing real volume like Seiko and Tissot, have absolute crap bonded leather in a fake plastic skin for their straps. All the budget on that 300 dollar Seiko was on the watch. The only watches I have ever purchased that came with straps worth keeping were all "mid range", better than "mid range", or micro brands that can use the strap as another method of standing out. Stuff like Glycine Airmans (which before the insane discounts cost over 1k), my Sinn 104, my Zelos watches, etc, all came with nice straps.

    My Orients? The straps are par at best fairly low quality. My Seiko's? Stiff and uncomfortable. My Tissot? It fell apart in 6 months. That strap you see on amazon for 15 dollars? I hope it is a nato cause if it is a leather strap odds are extremely high it is crap.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    JonnyPD: Your conclusion is basically correct. Add to that what Karkarov said and you have all the info one needs about this subject.

    Many custom strap makers, me included, use vegetable tanned leather (top grain) because it is the best (especially for vintage style PAM style straps) and you get a strap that may well outlive most of us :)
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  4. #4
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    Karkarov, that was exactly what I was beginning to think. While I know watches, I didn't have a good understanding of leather and I was, to say the least, very surprised. Brands like Hadley-Roma, mark their products 'Genuine Italian Calfskin', and sell it for $15-25, and I know that it is just marketing, but I used to expect at least the bare minimum quality. But as I took apart a few of my straps, I saw thick padding, polyurethane (I figure/assume), and a very small piece of leather or reconstituted leather. Overall, I can understand how people can spot out bad straps with some ease, or at least now I do. But as we both agree, and this is what really annoys me, is that the polyurethane coating and embossing coats the entirety of the top of the strap. So this means that no real leather is actually visible when wearing it, and when people touch it to see if it is leather or to see the quality, they are touching PU/Plastic. There is nothing redeeming about these straps really..

    And Straps, you use vegetable tanned full grain leather, but after the tanning is it color corrected or dyed? Or does the vegetable tan provide enough of a color, where it wouldn't be necessary to use aniline solutions?
    and thank you both for your comments
    Last edited by JonnyPD; March 21st, 2017 at 16:03.
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  5. #5
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    Quote Originally Posted by JonnyPD View Post
    -snip-
    And Straps, you use vegetable tanned full grain leather, but after the tanning is it color corrected or dyed? Or does the vegetable tan provide enough of a color, where it wouldn't be necessary to use aniline solutions?
    and thank you both for your comments
    It is possible to buy veg tan leather that has been (aniline) dyed at the tannery. I buy raw veg tan and dye it myself with leather dye. Veg tan leather varies in color and can be anywhere from lightly pinkish to yellowish beige. The color depends on the tannins used in the process. If the raw leather has a nice color it can be used as is or it can be darkened by applying some leather oil or wax with no need for actual dye.

    straps68



  6. #6
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    Like anything in this world there are varying qualities out there, and not all of those qualities or lack of in some cases are created equal.
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    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf"

  7. #7
    Member JonnyPD's Avatar
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    Thanks Straps68 for the info, I was wondering about the necessity of some dyes for a while.

    And I agree Shane, maybe my initial post seemed a bit broad-brush, just trying to make sense of some of the cheaper genuine leather straps, that are noticeably poorer in quality and plastic feeling. I know of some straps that are marked 'Genuine Leather' but are top-grain cuts, or full grain, it's a term with a wide scope, which is where people (myself included) get confused.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Genuine Leather - What is the True Process?

    We should separate dyeing from types of leather.
    If it is full grain aniline dyed in tannery or dyed by strapmaker it doesnt make difference in the quality of the leather itself.
    Also there are different cuts, so full grain from the back, shoulders or belly will be very different in gradation of quality and characteristics.
    Genuine leather are both, full grain back and "genuine" leather made from leather dust which is mixed with glue, pressed to form the sheet, plastic foil pressed on the top and finished in crocodile pattern. But i doubt that any of us strapmakers would use that kind of crap.
    Leather straps should be made of leather. If padded, padding should be made of leather, as well as base layer, top layer, lining or any other layer if the construction of the strap asks for it.
    and the prices? Oh there are differences! I use leathers from 50-90$/sqm usualy and im sure that it is the range in which most of the strapmakers will find themselves. Only fool would spend the time to make the strap out of 15$ leather.

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