If you’re a watch collector or not, you may have heard of Horween leather, Chicago’s last tannery that has spanned across 5 generations.
With some of its customers selling leather products such as wallets, bags and even our beloved watch straps, the last tannery in Chicago has made a name for itself through the last century and their leather has reached the global markets in regions like Asia.
Types of Leather
Horween’s speciality is producing the Chromexcel, Dublin and Shell Cordovan leather with the latter being a durable leather from horse rumps (the buttock) of a horse and they are also one of the last producers for this kind of leather.
As for Chromexcel, it is commonly found in boat shoes, belts and many small leather goods. Furthermore, Horween is the only tannery that’s producing this kind of leather since the 1900s.
Only recently, Horween has experimented with a few different types of leather for 2-3 years and came out with a new range of leather, the vegetable-tanned Dublin leather. The base tannage of the leather is known as Essex, rich, full-grain leather that uses the same blends of extracts as the Shell Cordovan.
The Dublin leather is developed by the waxing of the Essex leather which creates a rustic look, creating a rich blend of natural waxes which retains the suppleness of the Essex leather but only in a darker shade which helps brings out the natural grain.
The characteristics of the Dublin leather is the ability to patina and burnish well over time and it has a unique pull-up (When the leather is flexed or folded it will create a tonal effect on the top side of the leather, this tonal can then be buffed out close to its original look) it is also known for its rugged look. You can also refer to a video illustration on how the pull up effect looks like here
The process of producing the Chromexcel leather is a great deal of work, it takes 89 separate processes and a gruesome duration of 28 days to produce and the majority of the work is by hand.
As for the Shell Cordovan, the leather takes a nice long dip for 30 days in Horween’s vegetable tanning solution made from tree bark before getting shaved which exposes the outline of the inner membrane, after which, it takes another long dip in a stronger solution for another 30 days.
At this point, the leather is only halfway ready where they’re ready to be hand-oiled, then, another 3 months rest, re-wet and shaved again on a machine that is controlled with a food pedal.
Are you starting to appreciate your leather products at home now? Because I am not done, or rather, them.
After the 30 days, the shaving of the leather begins and only 3 people in the company are competent enough to do this job.
It takes a steady hand to trim the leather just like changing a watch strap with a shoulder-less spring-bar (ok obviously the trimming of the leather is harder). The point is, try to fathom the difficulty when only 3 people in a veteran company are able to do the job.
The Chromexcel hides goes through a tanning process with a chrome-based solution and when the hides are out of the dipping, they turn into a pale blue colour. They are later tanned again with the vegetable solutions and conditioned with oils and greases.
If you’re wondering, 10% of the hides Horween processes comes from horses while the 90% are from cowhides. This should give you an idea of how much work they need to do for that 10%. Clearly, it takes a patient bunch for such quality.
Characteristics & Ageing
As with all leathers, the Chromexcel, Dublin and Shell Cordovan ages beautifully. In fact, the selling point of these leather is its ability to age nicely and some may say it looks better with age compared to it being new. After a year, the patina is pleasantly delightful with it turning into dark-brown.
The characteristics of Chromexcel is often associated with the words “pull-up” due to the tonal and bright effect after it is being folded or flexed. It is naturally bright and gives out more of a matte finish look
The Shell Cordovan is really durable and products that are made with it can last a very long time. This is due to the dense pores of the hinds of a horse. As far as durability is concerned, the hide is naturally resistant to water and stretching. Instead of creasing, it ripples giving it a different effect.
The Shell Cordovan ages into a darker colour as well and it ripples instead of creasing.
The Dublin leather has a nice tonal effect and has more of a rustic look when compared to the Chromexcel (both of the leather in the image above are new). When they age though, the Chromexcel turns into a dark-brown colour and the Dublin is no different.
Customers of Horween
There are a few notable brands that uses Horween’s leather such as shoes from Allen Edmonds and wallets from Ashland Leather to name a few.
However, let’s not forget our roots thus I’ll be focusing on some watch straps companies that utilises the stellar leather from Horween.
Nomad Watch Works Horween Straps (Price $39USD ~ 49 SGD)
The strap boutique with prices ranging from as low as $3 to the higher end watch straps that include Horween’s leather, it is a one-stop-shop for your watch straps.
Their online store typically acts like a Netflix series, once you’re in there, it’s hard to leave especially now that you can have a 10% discount off all items by using the promo code “Nomad360”.
The House Of Straps (Price Range $50 – $170 USD)
As its name suggests, the house of straps offers a wide variety of straps but they mainly focus on leather straps. Here you can find leather of different kinds from Horween’s Shell Cordovan and Chromexcel to Barenia and Chevre leather. You’ll be spoilt for choice as well with the different colours and strap variations they offer!
Bandr Bands (Price range $70 – $90 USD)
Another notable watch strap brand is Bandr Bands as they provide a huge catalogue of straps ranging from quality materials such as Calf, Alligator to Horween leather.
For a bonus, here are some customers of Horween that makes remarkable wallets and small leather products.
Popov Leather (Price range $43 – $141 SGD)
Popov leather utilises the full-grain Horween leather in all of its products and they offer small leather goods from wallets, card-holders, belts and even notebook covers. All of the products are hand-made in their workshop and it has a 90-day exchange policy for any defective goods but with over 4,000 reviews on their website, I think you’ll be all set.
They provide personalisation services with an addition of $10 SGD, making it a great place to find a gift for your loved ones.
Ashland Leather (Price Range $75 – $225 USD)
As mentioned earlier, Ashland leather creates great quality wallets using Horween’s Shell Cordovan leather and they are handcrafted in Chicago, the same place Horween is located.
As much as they focus on using Shell Cordovan for their products, they do offer a great selection of Dublin and Chromexcel leather products from valet trays to key fobs. They have a blog on their website too which you can learn more about how they make their products to caring for them, a decent effort worth mentioning.
As you can see Horween’s leather is everywhere including on the straps of our precious timepiece! You can visit these 3 online stores to get a taste of the fine craft of Horween’s leather, albeit I noticed that only the House of Straps offers the Shell Cordovan option and you can expect it being the pricier one among the 3 stores.
Nonetheless, no matter the type of products you have from wallets, bags and watch straps you can be sure that if its made from Horween leather, you’ve officially gotten the highest or if not one of the highest quality leather from the finest tannery in Chicago.
I hope that after understanding its history and leather making processes, you’ll be more appreciative of the costs of such leather goods no matter how small the product may be (watch straps).
If you like this article and would like to read more about watch straps you can have a look at our Expert Guide To Watch Straps article over here.
Use “Nomad360” for 10% off all items at Nomad Watch Works!