When looking at the picture below, you can probably almost smell the leather. This picture was taken at leather maker Pieroth's in Offenbach, Germany.
There are so many different types of leather that for us, deciding which should be our "leather of the season" is always a difficult task. For this reason, we started our "Limited Edition" leathers: This means that we have a small number of leather types, no more than 47 pieces for each type.
Together with Mr. Pieroth, we designed our DUO and TRIO personal organizers. For us, Mr. Pieroth is THE leather maker and is extremely competent in all things leather. It was a wonderful time working with him but now Mr. Pieroth has retired. However, we immensely enjoyed the time working together with him.
Another wonderful detail from Pieroth's leather workshop.
Ordered spools of thread wait patiently, ready for use.
At small leather maker workshops, leather is - though it may be hard to believe - not sewn but rather stitched.
In a leather workshop many things require the use of glue. Before the leather stitcher can go to work, the individual pieces of leather need to be fixed together. This is done to ensure that no mistakes are made during the stitching process.
Machines with worn enamel, glue canisters with glue residue from decades ago, scissors that have been sharpened a thousand times, an awl, nails, an embossing machine, old lamps from before the war, zippers, buttons in all sizes and colors, and all around the scent of leather and oil. Pure nostalgia.
The color and gloss of the leather is the first, noticeable and measureable characteristic. In the simplest case, the leather is matte, semi-matte or high-gloss. But take a close look at the depth of color, the color saturation and at the interplay with the surface texture. There are wonderful effects that can be created through dabbing, for example.
The dabbing leather technique is applied to the leather's surface by hand using a cloth. The result is a fascinating play of two or more colors reflected in the leather's surface and seen while holding the leather at an angle.
If you find leather that has a very glossy, flawless surface, this can be caused naturally or it may also be that the leather has been coated or laminated. The initially thick hide gets separated, meaning the top and bottom sides get separated from each other.
The bottom side is usually free of tears, scars, insect bites, etc. This side then gets a thin film of plastic attached to it. A true leather connoisseur would scorn such techniques but this solution does have its advantages: the surface is flawless, the product has a consistent look to it, it is more cost effective to produce, it is made of full leather and quality deficiencies are very low.
A large German manufacturer of luxury writing utensils uses this solution for his accessories and evidently has had success with it.
If you want to be sure that you get a true, good glossy leather, pay attention to the neck creases. The front half of the leather hide is called the neck. Characteristic for the neck are the neck creases that occur over the years as the cow moves his head from this way to that.
As individual as a fingerprint, these neck creases bring a distinct uniqueness to a piece of leather. Our neck pieces come from Italy. Sturdy and tough, this leather will show light signs of use. An individual product.
There are natural and artificial surface structures for leather. These occur through the tannery or through finishing techniques. Below are a few different surface structures. Every animal hide has its own distinct character. Think about reptile skin like a crocodile's, or fish skin like that of a stingray, a pig's hide with bristle holes or the most commonly used hide, cow hide.
Through thousands of years of experience with leather, people have come to learn that leather can take on thousands of different shapes.
Simply put, this occurs in two steps: Step one is the tannery process. Here the leather gets conserved and can be refined with properties like degree of hardness or color. In the second step the tanned leather is then "finished", meaning with additional refinements. These refinements remain secret so that the leather remains individual to the leather maker. This knowledge, passed down for thousands of years is continually expanding.
Not every tannery is able to produce every type of leather. There are specialists that are able to do some special techniques with leather that cannot be reproduced by other tanneries.
Although leather and tannery hand craftsmanship in Germany has significantly been reduced in the last 30 years, and now only operated by a few number of experts, the worldwide leather industry is a huge economic factor and has continued to develop itself in technique as well as in use of chemicals. Now you can see on the leather market glossy, silky, natural-grained, open or stamped surfaces that are sometimes not even recognizable as leather.
One of the most important and versatile techniques for working on leather is stamping. Under pressure and heat, leather can be bent into almost any form possible. By pressing two print forms (positive and negative) together on a piece of cow hide, you can get crossed, lined or dented structures as a simple form or in a more complicated form you can get perfect crocodile print that is almost impossible to distinguish from real crocodile leather. But leather does not do this on its own. It takes 1.8 tons of pressure and 110 - 160 degrees Celsius temperature to make the leather palpable.
The result of step one, the tanning, is the firmness or stiffness of the leather. Leather does not naturally have a stiff quality, this has to be worked on in the tannery.
Depending on what kind of chemicals or natural solutions are used, leather will become hard as a rock or soft as butter. Leather that is treated with minerals without any additives, like chrome, and let to dry, can afterwards be hung on the wall like a piece of cardboard This technique is especially useful for making inserts for shoes, for example, which can be later adjusted relatively easily.
A soft, robust leather usually contains chrome and therefore does not absorb water well. It is always important to know, which features are desired for the leather.
If you are not quite sure if two pieces of leather are the same or not, you can also use your fifth sense to help you: smell the leather and see if there is a difference. The result is not always perfect but different smells can help you distinguish different origins of leather.
Here you might also have different preferences. Some people prefer the spicy leather scent of Italian leather, others prefer the dry, flowery scent of many Far East leathers. But these criterion do not always help - some leather producers spray their leather with a leather perfume. If it sells, it is allowed.
To finish, one more small insiders' tip: If you place two types of leather next to each other and you still cannot see any differences between them, check their degree of moisture. Many leathers - especially Far East leathers - feel very dry. Other leathers like the Norse deer from our X47 collection create the impression of being moist. "Moist" leather sticks a bit to your hand. With deer this is a clearly positive criterion of quality that equally has a higher price tag.
With leather, there is nothing that cannot be done. There is genuine leather that looks like plastic and artificial leather that looks like genuine leather.
We have seen leather that looked exactly like a PVC covering and we have seen personal organizers that felt, smelled, and looked almost as good as genuine leather but were not.
A special feature of leather is the connecting material. We use this for our X17 products. For connecting material, conditioned leather is used, which is fine grained and rolled out with a bonding agent. It is available as real, genuine leather.
As previously said, with leather, there is nothing that cannot be done.