When you pick up a wallet or watch band at a mall kiosk and feel the cheap texture of the leather, you can probably tell right away that the embossment on the back saying “genuine leather” is less a proud declaration than it is a desperate plea of defense. In the same way that Taco Bell swears that its protein technically constitutes real beef, and high fructose fruit-juices go out of their way to aver that their product contains real fruit juices, these leather products are implying their lack of quality by loudly trying to convince you otherwise.
Certain products don’t need to shout anything out loud. High quality restaurant menus don’t assure customers that their rib eyes are made from “real meat”; an illustrious knife-maker like Gerber needn’t shout that its blades are made from “real steel.” True quality can afford to remain quiet. Such is the case with Horween, the leather company that has become synonymous with the highest grade leather. Horween proves it with its products, not proclamations.
What Is Horween Leather?
Though it sounds a bit like the name of a horror movie, Horween is the name of a kind of leather. More accurately, it’s the name of one of the oldest continuously running leather tanneries in the United States. Operating from Chicago, the Horween Leather Company has been creating high quality leather since 1905. The company was founded by Arnold Horween and has remained in the Horween family for all 113 years of its existence. Horween creates a wide variety of tannages, making use of cowhide, horsehide, bison and calfhide. It is widely hailed for its nonpareil Shell Cordovan, a type of leather that is often used in high end shoemaking. They are also known for their Chromexcel leather, a proprietary product that is valued for its shimmering tonal properties and its ability to retain dyes.
The aforementioned label of “genuine leather” is an actual category of leather, a low rung on the leather hierarchy, generally made from recycled, particle board leather. You see it in the products at mall kiosks and bargain bins at department stores. Horween leather always falls into the top two taxonomic classifications of leather: either corrected grain (second best) or full/top grain (best). Corrected grain means that natural scars and hair cell patterns have been removed, due to their excessive presence on a hide. The natural feel of the leather is therefore reduced by this synthetic process. Full grain or top grain leather is unaltered, and feels rich and organic. Notable companies that have an exclusive relationship with Horween Leather Company include Rawlings Sporting Goods company, which uses Horween leather in its baseball mitts, the Timberland Company, Johnston & Murphy, Brooks Brothers, Shinola Detroit and many more.
Horween represents the best name in American leather. Being as timeless and time-honored as it is, it’s fitting that you would want to wrap your timepiece with a Horween band. Beyond just the name, it’s the most comfortable and luxurious leather you’ll find. The quiet addition of Horween to your wrist will make a subtle but strong statement. Unlike the wannabe-stuff of mall kiosks, this is one piece of leather you won’t have to hide.
NATO watch straps originate from the British Ministry of Defence, which created a new form of watch strap in the 1970s, and equipped their soldiers with it. Soon, the NATO strap left the esoteric military circle and joined the mainstream watch community, offering a sleek, militaristic look. While NATO straps most commonly come in a rugged Nylon fabric, the Zuludiver Horween Leather NATO watch strap strikes the perfect in-between look, with the same military style that you’re accustomed to with a NATO strap, but illumined with full-grain Horween leather.
Form Function Form Button-Stud
The Button-Stud watch strap from Form Function Form, or FFF, is made from cordovan leather from Horween. Cordovan refers to a type of soft leather that was originally made from goatskin, but today is usually crafted from horsehide. FFF boasts that theirs was the first button-stud watchband, which they released in 2012. It offers a wide range when it comes to wrist girth – 2 full inches of adjustability – and a variety of different kinds of stud, including solid brass, stainless steel, and perma-coated black diamond-like carbon stainless material.
Bell & Ross Vintage Honey
Bell & Ross is one of the most prominent watch brands today. They’re known for their militaristic, rugged and tactical aesthetic, and nothing compliments that dark, sharp-edged look better than a warm quality leather. Thus, this Vintage BR123/126 Honey Horween watch band is the perfect complement for one of B&R’s many badass watch faces, from their circular WWI model to the squared-off BR-X1. If you’re looking for the perfect pair for your dark and ashen watch, try a bit of honey.
Crown & Buckle Predator Tan
Crown & Buckle handpicked a large swath of Horween leather direct from their Chicago factory in order to make this batch of watch bands. They liked the particular hue, and nicknamed it “Predator Tan,” describing it as a distressed vintage-style leather that isn’t gratuitously worn or too deliberate in its vintage look. Predator leather is full-grain, both chrome tanned and vegetable tanned. Olive drab stitching offers a dynamic duality to the watch band, and the stitching is done with heavy gauged thread. The band is handmade in the USA, and the styling is NATO.
E3 Chromexcel Apple Watch Band
Chromexcel is a style of leather that was invented by the Horween Leather Company. It refers to leather that experiences tonal shifts as a result of greases with which the leather is impregnated shifting into the creases caused by folding the material. Luminous and lustrous, chromexcel leather can be polished to a bright sheen. According to Horween, the crafting of chromexcel leather requires 89 separate processes and usually takes 28 full working days. The product of that arduous labor is a leather material like the kind from which the E3 Apple Watch Band is cut. If you’ve been looking for an excellent leather band to string up your Apple watch, this is a perfect choice. Stainless Steel Buckles and Strap Keeps are added to the leather band, which are tied on with high gauge threading. Chromexcel provides a durable yet soft Horween strap for your high-tech watch.
Friday & River Black NATO
Friday & River Leather Goods produces their leather products by hand in San Diego, California. Their Black NATO watch strap crafted from Horween black leather is an excellent band for anyone seeking a stealthy or tactical look for their wristwatch. Chromexcel leather, or chrome tanned Horween leather, is easily dyed – it is not uncommon for people to dye their chromexcel black after purchase. But Friday & River has already done that for you, producing a sweet, black leather watch strap – perhaps to accommodate your studly leather jacket – in the NATO style.
Jack Foster Military
Jack Foster is a well-known American leather company that exclusively sources its leather from Horween Leather Company in Chicago and Hermann Oak Leather Company in St. Louis. This military style watch band is modeled after vintage ammo pouch straps. It’s crafted from a variety of Horween leather called English Tan Dublin Horween leather, which is a lighter shade with a higher firmness due to the use of waxes in the manufacturing process. English Tan Dublin begins a lighter color, but quickly attains a shimmering and deep patina that make other leathers pale in comparison.
Shinola Orange Leather
Shinola Detroit is a leather goods company that, in just the last decade, has established itself as one of the premier leather companies in America, and, wouldn’t you know it – they exclusively use Horween leather to craft their brilliant products. Founded in 2011, with a mission of crafting excellent leather products and bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States – particularly Detroit – Shinola has risen to the top of the leather manufacturing industry, with its rich and warm leather wallets, watches, belts and more. Shinola uses Horween leather exclusively, as they are committed to quality, and using homebred ingredients for their watch straps, iPad cases, iPhone cases, laptop cases, wallets, portfolios, backpacks, and the rest of their leather goods. Their warm orange Horween leather watch strap showcases a design that is built to last for decades.
Worn & Wound Model 2 Premium Crimson
Worn & Wound is a high end leather goods company with not too high of a price point. They make high quality leather goods, and their watch bands are no exception. Check out this bold and dashing Cavalier Horween chromexcel watch strap, entitled the Model 2 Premium. Like the Dublin Tan, this leather will experience tonal changes with folds and creases, vitalizing the already vivacious red velvet tint of this watch strap. This allows the bright red watch strap – which is even more susceptible to it due to its bright tint – to accrue various character-imbuing nicks, scratches and stresses on its leather, giving it a rugged and unique finish with frequent wear. Nothing looks better on leather than a little bit of use.
Leffot Shell Cordovan Contrast Stitch
Leffot thinks that Shell Cordovan is the best when it comes to varieties of leather. They might be right. Commonly used in high end shoe making, by the likes of Brooks Brothers and Allan Edmonds, Shell Cordovan derives its name from the city of Cordoba, Spain, where ancient Visigoths first produced it. Though it has seemingly primitive roots, the leather is nonetheless top of the line, and remains the most expensive leather to manufacture. It’s durability meant that in the 19th century, Cordovan leather was primarily used for for leather razor strops, with which barber’s could sharpen their razors. In recent years, the supple though expensive leather has been used to make luxurious shoes, wallets, and watch straps – like the one that Leffot has crafted. At $160, this is the most opulent watch straps on this list, but in some estimations, it’s worth it for the leather quality that Cordovan leather offers. A beautiful patina will emerge with continuous use, and contrast stitching gives the strap a chiseled outline.
The Complete Guide To Leather Care
If you want to upgrade your leather game, you’ll want to know how to take care of it. Take a look at our Complete Guide To Leather Care, to learn how to keep your hide in top shape.