If you’re a leather or watch lover, you may have stumbled on term watch bands made from Horween leather. But what exactly is it and why is it so appreciated? Read on to learn.
Horween Tannery is an old, family owned leather business founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. Five of their family generations excel at leather production and that is why Horween stands as a name for one of the most quality leather on the planet. Basically, when you hear Horween, it stands for traditionally, vegetable-tanned, premium leather that beats its competition with handcrafted quality and beautiful scent. Actually, as Horween produces several different leathers, all of them have different scents, due to different tanning processes.
Some of their most famous products through more than a century of leather handcrafting are Genuine Shell Cordovan, Football leather, Chromexcel and their famous Baseball glove. Genuine Shell Cordovan is leather made from a specific, back part of horsehide, which is first tanned, then stuffed, shaved and in the end polished. The whole process of making it takes at least 6 months and the end product is luxurious and glossy. Shell Cordovan has gotten its name by Spanish town Cordoba, where it was first made in 7th century by the Visigoths, a nomadic tribe of Germanic people, also called the Goths. It was always expensive and hard to make as one horse hide (two back sides) are needed for one pair of shoes. In 19th and at the beginning of 20th century, it was used to sharpen the razors on razor straps in barber shops.
Shell Cordovan leather was always highly appreciated among shoemakers and used by luxurious brands of shoes such as Carmina or Allen Edmonds, but in recent times it is also used for wallets and watch straps, due to its durability and look. It is still widely used by large brands for men’s luxury shoes. Plus, it is often the choice of gentlemen because of the possibility to combine their shoes with their leather accessories, such as wallets and watch straps also made from Shell Cordovan, therefore it is widely recognized as the sign of traditional style. Since Shell Cordovan is non-creasing and super-durable material, all of the products are investments worth making. It’s most non-porous leather ever made and develops specific patina over time, which is why it’s especially appreciated. Specifically, a pair of shoes made from Genuine Shell Cordovan by Horween costs somewhere between $700-$1200 and it will probably last you for years.
Allen Edmonds shoes made of Shell Cordovan leather. Image from londonwade.com
But the Horween product that is even more famous than Shell Cordovan is Chromexcel. Often marked as, simply, CXL, this is the type of leather that goes through exactly 89 processes from the raw hide to the end product and takes 28 days of work. It undergoes one of the most complicated tanning processes in leather tanning industry as many re-tannages are made with pigments from tree barks and other natural pigment sources. The pigments are mixed and applied by hands with the help of heat, steam and pressure. Before the tanning process itself, the raw hides are de-haired, lime-fleshed, bated and pickled.
The name Chromexcel comes from using chrome salts in the process of base tanning, through specific environment in terms of pH, temperature, concentrations and time. That is why all chrome tannages have the initial blueish color. But this is just the beginning.
The process of re-tanning is the most interesting (and the longest!) as it takes careful combinations of bark extracts and natural tanning agents. After that follows the impregnation with oils, greases and paraffin waxes. Basically, all leathers impregnated with oils and waxes are called pull-up leathersbecause they slightly change their color on places where leather is pulled, scratched or flexed. It happens due to migration of the oil the leather gets specific, nicely worn out, character to the look. The next process is rubbing the Chromexcel in non-pigmented aniline to make the color even and pull-up marks more subtle.
But don’t confuse Chromexcel and pull-up leathers with distressed leather. Pull-up leather has more sheen and their marks happen over time. Some marks may lose if you hand rub them with natural oils. Distressed leather is the one that has worn out look at the very beginning, as it is made by tumbling it in a drum-like machine with paraffin, to create variations in color and distressed look.
The Chromexcel is the original pulled-out leather based on a 100 years old recipe and it is made only by Horween. It is made in several varieties, such as Beaufort, Cavalier, Huntsman, Horsefront, Kudu, Plainsman and Wooly, to name some. Each of them has a hand-rubbed finishing coat of Neat’s-foot Oil, but specific attributes and uses. As Chromexcel comes in wide range of weights and varieties, there is also waterproof version. Whatever the version, Chromexcel stands for superior durability, comfort, look and scent.
So, when it comes to Horween leather, Shell Cordovan is a classic, made for those who appreciate traditional style, while Chromexcel stands for change, as it changes its color the way you pull it and shape it. It kind of ages with you. So if you ask yourself, which one is better as a material for a watch strap, just answer the question are you more of a traditional or adaptive gentleman, and you’ll have your answer. Although Cromexcel is more appreciated in the leather industry, it is impossible to make a mistake when you go with either of these by Horween – over a century old experience is on your side.
Learn more about Horween Chromexcel here.