While our Popov Leather journey began in 2013, the process of tanning leather has an ancient history, dating back beyond the Egyptians and Phoenicians. The tools used for leather-working have been found throughout almost every era known to humanity, and today I carry on this tradition as a craftsman dedicated to creating only the finest products.
Because of its easily accessible availability, leather often is considered a basic material. Of course, it's easy to pop into any big box retailer and find a variety of "leather" items ranging from apparel to accessories and furniture. However, as with any product, it's essential to remember the phrase, "buyer beware," when settling for many commercial leather products. Not all leather is created the same. But how do you know what leather is good and what is not? For high-quality leather items, it all begins with breaking down the different types of leather.
When purchasing any leather product, it's essential to know the grade category of the material. Knowing the grade provides valuable information regarding the leather's durability, strength, and wearability over time. If you want your leather wallet to look good and hold up after months (and years) of usage, you need to pick one made from a high-grade leather. Leather grades to know are:
- Full grain
- Top grain
Full-grain leather, the highest-quality grade of leather, is the top choice—but don't confuse it with top-grain leather. Full-grain leather comes from the hide's top layer and includes the full, natural grain. It is never sanded or buffed as a way to remove imperfections, which helps provide durability and additional strength in the material. Full-grain leather is the most expensive grade of leather to manufacture, often making it the most expensive leather grade for consumers to purchase. And it's worth it.
Because full-grain leather comes from the topmost layer of the hide, it's always unique. It may have slight imperfections and marks that have developed over the course of the animal's life. These are natural and part of its overall beauty. Full-grain leather also tends to breathe better than top grain.
Business Insider even reports, "Full grain is hard-as-nails leather that will develop a rich patina as it ages, looking more and more beautiful as you use it. It's widely recognized as the best and highest-quality leather money can buy."
We only carry full-grain leather because of its multiple benefits and superior quality.
The next grade level of leather is top grain. The second highest in quality, top-grain leather has had its outer layer removed by sanding. Sanding away that top layer also degrades the strength of the fiber. While full-grain leather is allowed to retain its natural look, top-grain leather is imprinted with an imitation grain to create a more consistent look. This lesser-grade leather is thinner than full grain leather and can be more malleable when crafting high-end products like handbags. In addition to surface sanding, top-grain leather may receive a finish to create a smooth, silky feel.
Another term for genuine leather is corrected-grain leather. While its name may seem to imply this grade of leather is the real deal, genuine leather actually has an artificial grain affixed to its surface to create the look of top-grain leather. While the name may say "genuine," remember it's really artificial. Typically, you'll find that genuine leather has been dyed or stained to give it a stylish look or even to help it appear more natural. It's cheaper leather and one commonly used in mass-produced items.
Bonded leather sits at the lowest end of the grading scale. Manufacturers take heaps of scrap leather and shred the material into smaller pieces. These pieces then are fused or "bonded" to polyurethane over a fiber sheet to create this artificial leather. It's a very cheap, imitation leather containing only small amounts of actual, real leather. You may find items made from bonded leather also labeled as reconstituted leather or as vinyl. However, bonded leather is not the same as vinyl, and, in some applications, it can be used as a cost-effective alternative to genuine leather.
Types of Full Grain Leather We Use
Before leather is ready to be crafted into a wallet, journal cover, belt, or other item, it must go through a tanning process. Tanning can be a time-consuming and complicated process with some methods more involved than others. Different tanning processes create different types of leather. Here at Popov, we work with five full grain leather types, each with its own beauty and distinction.
Probably the most traditional tanning method, the vegetable-tanning process for leather features the use of both vegetable and root extracts to create a natural-looking material that retains its unique characteristics. Tannins are extracted from both the vegetables and roots, a process used and perfected over many centuries. Vegetable-tanned leather holds its shape nicely and remains rigid as needed. It's also considered an environmentally friendly tanning process. We have handcrafted wallets available in full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather.
Chromexcel is a trademark tanning process from the Horween Leather Company, an institution since 1905. According to Horween, their Chromexcel "is a combination tanned leather that undergoes at least 89 separate processes taking 28 working days" to complete. Horween Chromexcel is a pull-up leather "in full aniline, hand rubbed finishes." This type of leather first goes through vegetable tanning, then the chrome-tanning process.
It's easy to say this process for creating this type of leather is indeed complicated, but the results are stunning. We've found that Horween Chromexcel leather is ideal for a multitude of items, including but not limited to tote bags, passport cases, toiletry bags, luggage tags, and more. Our handcrafted watch straps designed specifically for Apple® watches also are available in Horween Chromexcel, a durable leather type that always offers outstanding comfort.
Horween Derby and Dublin:
The Horween Derby and Dublin leathers took about three years to develop, reports Horween. It's derivative of Essex vegetable-tanned leather, but in waxed versions, with Derby typically sporting a smoother finish. Distinctive to Derby and Dublin leathers are their high oil content and ability to age with a beautiful patina. Because of this leather's versatility, we've been able to use it to create eye-catching essentials like watch straps and traditional key chains.
Wickett & Craig English Bridle Leather:
Established in 1867, Wickett & Craig leathers are made in the U.S. and considered environmentally friendly. Their traditional English Bridle Leather is durable like Chromexcel and always flexible, making it a prime choice for items like my handmade belts. The Wickett & Craig English Bridle Leather is drum dyed and hot stuffed (with fats and oils), a process that helps develop its even, smooth, and luxurious surface, ideal for passport cases. We also use this leather for our unique pen sleeves, which are designed to fit a variety of pen types and sizes.
Wickett & Craig Harness Leather:
Traditional harness leather from Wickett & Craig uses "an exclusive blend of waxes, oils, and tallows." These are hot stuffed to always ensure these particular leathers reach their full, beautiful potential. "Through a traditional process called jack glazing, oils are brought to the surface to create a glossy finish that never masks the leather’s natural grain." While this particular leather is a popular choice for equestrian items, it's also perfect for a variety of high-quality, personal leather goods like wallets. Every time you pull a wallet from your pocket that's been hand crafted from Wickett & Craig Harness Leather, you'll love its look and feel. This type is similar to bridle leather as it's a durable, long-lasting, full vegetable-tanned leather.
All our leathers at Popov always are exquisite and the finest quality. We only work with full-grain leathers, and each item out of the workshop is handcrafted. Nothing leaves the workshop unless we're sure you'll love it.
Do you have questions about our leathers? Please contact us here.