Leather bags are a lot of fun to discover and to understand. Especially when you need to buy one, it’s really useful to know what you are paying for. In this article we are going to talk about the real meaning behind some terms that you might have heard, like “genuine” leather.
Leather is generally divided in four different qualities:
full grain leather
top grain leather
As you can see from the picture below, each layer of the cow hide corresponds to a different type of quality. The latter depends on how the fibers of the hide are. For example, in the lowest part fibers are almost horizontal, making tearing them apart quite easy, thus lowering the quality of bag made with that part of the leather.
Full grain leather is the top layer of the hide and it is the most durable of all. Since it includes all the grain with it, there are no surface alterations, giving it great character.Furthermore, the natural surface burnishes and improves with use, as it absorbs external oils and develops the well-sought patina over time. For these reasons, it is the most expensive and the one you will receive the most value from.
Top grain leather is the second top layer of the hide and it is obtained by splitting the top layer of blemished hide. The process gets rid of all the scars and scrapes, resulting in a more commercial look: smoother and more flexible. This type of leather is strong and durable but it has a major difect. It does not age nicely with use, tending therefore to stretch permanently over time.
When you hear genuine leather, don’t be fooled by the name. Although quality is embedded in the terminology, genuine leather is actually a third grade type of leather. As well as the top grain leather, it is sanded to remove natural imperfection. The surface is then usually refinished with paint to resemble a higher grade, a process that alters the breathability of the material thus leading to a decrease in the quality of the final product. Finally, even though it is thougher than cloth and it is excellent for lining, it’s not a good idea to use it under stress, which is something a bag must do.
Bonded leather is made up of what remains of the hide, including dust and shavings. The waste material is bonded together using polyurethane or later on top a fiber sheet. This type of leather is also spray painted to make it look of a higher quality. Bonded leather is weak and degrades quickly. Just do not buy anything made of this.
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