How to Identify High-Quality Handmade Leather Belts: A Beginner's Guide

high quality handmade leather belts

They say that diamonds are forever, and I’d argue so are handmade leather belts. Well, not really, if you want to get technical about it, but with proper care and maintenance, your leather belt will last several lifetimes and get even better with age. 

There’s a caveat though—high-quality leather is the key to this longevity, while a handmade construction is the secret to the ‘better with age' part. You’ll see why in a bit.

Today I’m sharing insider secrets from years of leather goods manufacturing to show you how you can identify high-quality leather belts. This way, you too can enjoy the durability and stunning beauty of a great leather belt. 

Among the things we’ll get into are:

  • The unique features of handmade leather belts
  • Some tips and trick you can use to identify real leather belts
  • An overview of Popov Leather and our full-grain leather belts

Step 1 - Get To Know the Grades of Leather Used in Belt Making

While there is no official standard for grading leather, most manufacturers follow a distinct grading system based on the leather finish and section of cowhide used. 

This grading system divides leather into three distinct grades:

  • Full-grain leather (the best quality): This is also referred to as top-grain leather because it’s derived from the topmost layer of the hide. Full-grain leather is highly durable and develops a rich patina over time and use. 
  • Split-grain leather (bad for belts): This is derived from the most fibrous part of cowhide—usually what is left after extracting full-grain leather. Split-grain leather is often thin with a loose structure and is not as durable as full-grain leather
  • Bonded leather: This barely qualifies as leather. It’s made from a concoction of leather slurry and scraps left over after extracting full-grain and split-grain leather. As such, it yields poor quality leather belts.
cross-section of cowhide and showing different grades of leather
The grades of ​​leather

For the best handmade leather belts, you want to stick to 100 percent full-grain leather. This way, you are guaranteed a first-rate product that will give you a lifetime of service. 

Expert Tip: Avoid leather belts branded as “Genuine Leather.” This is a marketing term typically used to indicate that a leather product has some amount of leather in it, no matter how little. 

Technically this means that even bonded leather belts can be branded as genuine leather belts, despite not possessing any of the qualities that make real leather belts special. 

See Also: The Ultimate Guide to Leather Grades: Is Genuine Leather Genuine?

Step 2 - Check the Branding on Your Leather Belt

Check the branding. This is your first line of defense as it’s easy to do and doesn’t require any technical leatherworking knowledge.

Manufacturers who use full-grain leather take great pride in this fact and will always let you know. For instance, at Popov Leather, we make it abundantly clear that all our belts are handmade with the finest full-grain Horween leather

But this holds true for any handmade leather belt manufacturer worth their salt. They typically see branding such as “100 percent full-grain leather” or “genuine full-grain leather.”

Any other branding that does not include mention of full-grain leather should be cause for pause. This suggests the belt is made of leather, just not the highest grade

Additionally, be on the lookout for leather imitations. You’ll be able to identify these through labels such as:

  • Leatherette
  • Faux leather
  • Synthetic leather
  • Polyurethane leather

Avoid all belts with any of the above labels if what you’re looking for is a handmade leather belt. Leather imitations have poor durability and are prone to cracking, fading, and peeling. 

Step 3 - Examine the Belt’s Build and Hardware

If there are no visible labels or branding on the belt, don’t worry; there are some distinct handmade leather belt features you can fall back on. 

Typically, these will include qualities that are intrinsically part of full-grain leather and superior construction. These include:

The Distinct Aroma of Leather

Smell is one of the best ways to tell if your belt is made from high-quality leather. There’s no way to replicate the distinct aroma of leather—which also happens to be one of the characteristics of full-grain leather that most enchants leather enthusiasts.

handmade full-grain leather belt from Popov Leather
Leather belt

“ ... absolutely amazing! The first thing you’ll notice when you remove [the belt] from the awesome black bag it comes in is the smell. I love the smell of quality genuine leather …. ”

Bobby Diaz ★★★★★ Verified Reviewer

It’s difficult to describe the smell of true leather accurately, so the best I can do is offer some of the most commonly used adjectives to describe it: earthy, luxurious, natural, organic, oaky, soothing. 

While these words may fall short, trust me when I say you’ll know it when you smell real leather.

The Soft, Grainy, and Flexible Texture

Smell is the first sensory clue; the second is texture. Handmade leather belts have a very distinct feel. They are rugged yet soft and tough while still maintaining their pliability. 

Additionally, full-grain leather belts have a grainy texture and may even feature spots and blemishes from the cowhide. 

If you examine it closely, you will notice tiny holes in the surface where hair was removed during the tanning process and pores. 

The pores make full-grain leather breathable and prevent mildew and mold from growing on your handmade leather belt.

natural full-grain leather has texture
Full-grain l​​eather belt 

“The belt is made of fine-quality leather. It’s quite supple and does have some minor stretch to it. I am sure this belt will see much good use for years to come.”

Wayne Stiver ★★★★★ Verified Reviewer

Fun Leather Belt Fact

The texture of your handmade full-grain leather belt will change depending on ambient conditions. For instance, in humid areas, the leather will soak up moisture from the atmosphere through its pores and become softer. On the other hand, your belt will lose moisture and some of its pliability in dry conditions.

the best leather belts feature

The Quality of the Hardware

Full-grain leather belts are built to withstand several lifetimes of everyday use, all while aging gracefully and developing a beautiful patina. Indeed, with a bit of care, your handmade leather belt will outlive you, and manufacturers know this. 

As such, the best leather belts feature sturdy metal buckles as standard, with brass, titanium, and stainless steel as the top choices. 

At Popov Leather, we use solid brass buckles on our belts. Brass is sturdy enough to keep your belt in place, and comfortable over long periods without being too heavy or thick.

Brass is also relatively easy to maintain while giving our belts a timelessly elegant look.

Popov Leather belts have solid brass buckles
Popov Leather belts​​

Typically, a quick buffing is enough to keep the brass buckles in shape. But if they’ve tarnished, you can mix the juice of half a lemon with half a teaspoon of baking soda to make a paste.

Apply the paste on the buckle for about thirty minutes, rinse, then dry, and your buckle will be good as new.

an excelleny belt made from best material

Discover Popov Leather: Your Source of High-Quality Handmade Leather Belts

Popov Leather is a family-owned business that started as a hobby that blossomed into a successful enterprise. Even so, at its core, we still operate by the same principles that birthed Popov Leather all those years ago:

  • Attention to detail which allows us to create high-quality leather products consistently
  • Continuous innovation to meet our modern customers’ expectations
  • A strong sense of community and commitment to growth
  • Accountability and loyalty to our lifelong customers

These values permeate everything we do, including in manufacturing our handmade leather belts—the result—an excellent belt made from the best material, and a class above the competition. 

You can see the differences between our handmade leather belts and generic belts on the market in the table below.

Feature Popov Leather Belts Cheap Generic Belts
Material Full-grain Horween leather Poor quality leather or synthetic leather
Durability Long-lasting, can withstand daily wear and tear Short-lived, prone to cracking and fading
Comfort Soft and supple, conforms to the body Stiff and unyielding, may cause discomfort
Finish High quality with great texture and leather smell Overly processed, unnaturally smooth, prone to peeling
Stitching Strong, tight and evenly spaced Loose, prone to unraveling or falling apart
Buckle Heavy duty, made of metal or solid brass Lightweight, made of plastic or flimsy metal

You could almost argue that a comparison would be unfair. But then again, it's necessary to see how big the difference is between our belts and generic options. 

Visit our online store today to view our collection of the best handmade leather belts. You can also check our blog for information on how to care for your leather goods.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you wash your handmade leather belt?

Yes. But that’s not to say you can toss your leather belts into the washing machine. To clean your belts, a quick wipe down with a damp cloth is enough to remove the usual dirt and grime. For tough stains, scrub the belt with saddle soap made for leather. 

Avoid harsh chemicals such as bleach and cleaning solvents with alcohol or benzene because they can strip the leather and damage your belt. 

After cleaning, replenish the leather's natural oils, either through a specially designed leather balm or vegetable oil, then leave the belt to air dry.

Will my leather belt stretch over time?

Yes. Leather belts tend to stretch over time. At Popov Leather, we've considered this and preemptively included additional belt loopholes in case you ever need them.

However, there’s a limit to how much your belt will stretch. A lifetime of use will see a stretch of one to three inches, which is not enough to make your belt unwearable. 

How long will my handmade leather belt last?

With some care and maintenance, your leather belt will easily last a lifetime and then some. Of course, this is a scenario where you’ll get what you pay for—durability is directly related to leather grade. 

At Popov Leather, we only use full-grain leather to make heritage-quality belts with lifetime guarantees.

Written by Ryan Popoff

Ryan Popoff is the creative mind behind Popov Leather wallets, iPhone cases, belts, watch bands and journals since 2013. With a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts, my leatherworking journey began at home. I wanted to create a simple leather wallet that could fit into my front pocket and — to my delight — it was a hit with family and friends. Hopefully you love our honest, quality leather goods too! Reach out with questions.

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