Leather is a strong and flexible material obtained by the tanning or chemical treatment of animal skin and hide to prevent decay. The production process involves preparing the hide for tanning, which involves cutting it, removing hairs, bleaching, and cleaning it off dirt and insects. The tanning process involves immersing it in a chemical (known as tanning liquor) or otherwise made to absorb the liquor which stabilises the chemical composition of the hide, making it more durable. The process of leather making is around 7000 years old, with the current largest producers of leather being India and China. It has been used since the ancient times for a wide variety of equipment from clothing, footwear, and medieval armour to tool, sports equipment, and modern furniture. There are specific grades of leather depending on how the leather is finished and which section of the cowhide is used. This is widely used as an indicator of quality of the leather, with the higher grades being higher quality, and therefore more expensive. There is no restriction on which leather grades are used for products, which means that anything from furniture (such leather lounges for sale) to wallets can be made from any grade of leather.
It should first be noted that there is no universal guideline for grading leather. Most leather manufacturers use their own grading systems which may be based on different factors such as physical appearance, thickness, or imperfections in the hide. However, the commonly accepted leather grades are full-grain leather and top-grain leather which are the higher quality grades and split-grain leather (commonly known as ‘genuine leather’) and bonded leather which are the lower quality grades. This grading system is based on the portion of the hide used to create the tanned leather. The splitting process splits the hide; the portion closer to the exterior part contains ‘grain’ which refers to tight collagen bundles and the portion closer to the interior does not.
Top Grain Leather
As described above, the leather resulting from the top portion of the hide forms top grain leather. This results in two types of the highest quality leather known as full grain leather and corrected grain leather. Of the two, full grain leather is premium quality leather and is used in luxury brands of belts and wallets. The leather itself may contain imperfections found in the animal’s skin although this is considered a sign of authenticity.
Split Grain Leather
Split grain leather refers to the leather made from the hide residue after the top grain is separated. Genuine leather is also a type of split grain leather; of the two, genuine leather has worse quality and is made of several layers of split grain leather bonded together. These are less durable and has a plastic feel. Split leather products are generally considered inferior and are cheaper and less desired than higher quality leather products. People are often misled into thinking that genuine leather represents good quality leather despite it being one of the lowest.