Know Your Leather
Leather makes any gift better. Whether it’s from someone else or if we treat ourselves. A leather watchband is more than a watchband. A leather journal is more than a journal. A leather wallet is more than a wallet. There are many things that can attach a timepiece to our wrists—from metal to plastic. If we wanted merely to jot down our thoughts, any old notebook would do. A leather wallet, for instance, doesn’t hold more money or more credit cards. A leather gift says, “You’re special. You deserve something lovely as well as practical.” We treasure leather because it is special—the look and the feel, the luxury of it—because it’s natural and because no other material is so uniquely processed.
But do you know that there are different and distinct types of leather? Before you select your next leather gift, know the characteristics that are particular to full grain, top grain, split and bonded leathers.
Cowhide is thick—no surprise there, just look at a cow. Too thick for leather manufacturers to deal with. Too thick to be of use in our leather products. The hide is made up of two main layers. The two layers are split, and both the outermost/surface layer and the inner layer are used to produce leather.
Full Grain Leather
Full grain leather is processed from the very top layer of the hide, just below the hair, that retains all of the natural grain. This is the strongest and most durable part of the hide and the most resistant to scratches and water. As sturdy and practical as full grain leather may be, its primary value lies in the beauty of its natural appearance. It is never artificially altered.
The marks and scrapes and scars are all natural. The cow’s life is embedded into the leather: the time the cow was pierced by barbed wire, nipped by a thorn, bitten by a coyote. “Veins” of the full grain run all through the leather. Each piece of leather is unique. It wears its scars with pride, and the older it gets, the more beautiful it gets. A distinctive patina gives the leather its individual character.
Full grain is the highest quality leather available, and so it is fitting that it is the most expensive.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather is full grain leather that has been sanded and buffed with an abrasive wheel to remove surface imperfections to make the leather more uniform. It is then embossed with a natural-looking grain pattern, and a top coat of transparent resin is applied in either a high gloss or matte finish. Even though it’s not at the very top of the totem pole, top grain is a very high quality leather and most high-end leather items are made with it.
It has all the properties of full grain leather at a more affordable price. And it has a few advantages over full grain. It’s softer, more pliable and more resistant to stains.
Split leather is made from the inner layer of the hide. An artificial layer is applied to the surface and it is then sanded and buffed. A polymer coating is applied and embossed with a grain pattern. Chemicals restore the hide’s original strength and durability. Split leather is soft, but it is also thinner and more fragile than full grain and top grain. As such, it is less expensive.
Split grain leather is also known as corrected leather, embossed leather or coated leather.
When the inner layer of the hide is buffed on both sides, you have suede, characterized by its soft and “fuzzy” surface. Suede is also more affordable than full grain or top grain leather, but it is not as durable and not resistant to any liquids. In addition, those common marks we may get on fabric in the course of any particular day will not clean off easily.
Also known as reconstituted or blended leather, bonded leather uses leftover organic leather (from tanneries or workshops) that is shredded and bonded together with polyurethane or latex onto a fiber sheet. The varying degrees of organic leather in the mix can be anywhere from 10% to 90%, so the texture, durability and other typical qualities of leather will vary accordingly. It is typically finished with a texture and a film coating to give it a long-lasting and realistic look.
Bonded leather is economical and environmentally friendly, since it uses materials that would otherwise be thrown away.
Following are a few of the many other leathers that you might come across:
Buckskin is tanned with animal brains or other fatty materials. The result is a supple, suede-like hide that is usually smoked to make it softer and more water resistant.
Deerskin is sturdy and water resistant since deer live in thorny, dense environments. But most deerskin today is from the hides of deer bred on farms specifically for that purpose.
Patent Leather is leather that has been given a high-gloss finish, usually with a plastic coating. It’s a “new kid on the block” in comparison to the tens of thousands of years that regular leather has been around. The process was invented in 1818 in Newark, New Jersey.
Russia Leather is made from calf skin and bark-tanned cow leather. It is distinguished by an additional step after tanning: Birch oil is worked into the leather to make it even more durable, flexible and resistant to water.
How to Spot Fake Leather
Unfortunately, there are various ways in which unscrupulous dealers or manufacturers may try to present fake leather as real. Following are only a few things to watch out for:
The leather has a very uniform or monotonous pattern
When the leather is bent or folded, there is not a slight color variation
If a leather conditioner does penetrate the leather
Furniture can be advertised as “made with full grain leather” and have parts of it made with bonded leather or vinyl. Check the back of the item and other parts that are not readily visible.
Save yourself that kind of concern. Shop for leather products only at reputable merchants, particularly master leather artisans such as OleksynPrannyk!