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Material World: Getting a Grip on Calf Grain Leather

In part three of our guide to shoemaking materials we get under the skin of calf grain leather – in all its different forms…

Material World: Getting a Grip on Calf Grain Leather

If you’ve read Parts One and Two of our Material World series, you’ll know that the quality of any leather is measured by its ‘grade’. At Crockett & Jones, we only use top-notch materials, whether that’s suede, smooth calf, or indeed one of the different of calf grain leathers we use today.

Why are we so fussy? Well, to put it bluntly, if you want to make good shoes, you need the materials to match – especially when it comes to calf’s leather that is embossed (plated) with a grain print. Cheap leather will often give too much to take on a grain in this way. When a shoe is lasted or a boot blocked, the leather gets stretched into its finished form on the last, and only the finest A-Grade material has the structure to keep its grain when it is worked into a shoe.

As with many things at C&J, this quality control adds expense to the manufacturing process, but we think it’s worth it. Steve, Our Head Leather Buyer, explains: ‘The tanneries we buy our calf grain from are the most expensive and skilled in the world. We could snap up printed leathers for 20 per cent less elsewhere, but we choose not to. These tanneries get it right – and we’ve worked closely with them for decades to ensure it stays that way.’

To date, we’ve become renowned for four different grain leathers with our partner tannery. Our classic Pebble Grain features a subtle pebble-shaped surface texture with a waxy finish. We use it on a variety of slip-ons, lace-ups and boots, from our Cavendish tassel loafers to our Lowndes double-buckle monk straps. It lends shoes a casual look – but isn’t too rugged and a cracking match for the City rubber sole. Our other classic grain leather, Scotch Grain, is a little different. This grain is more pronounced, and looks markedly more rugged. We use it on hardy countrywear designs like our iconic Coniston boots in dark brown or tan. In fact, it was Jonathan Jones himself who first requested this particular emboss on a burnishing calf after tiring of having to produce his country collection from sub par printed leather - today, burnishable Scotch Country Grain is used by all!

Then, we have our unique Russian Grain leather, which features a crosshatch print inspired by a hoard of 18th century reindeer skins rescued from a sunken Russian trading ship in the Baltic Sea. As chance would have it, the freezing water preserved dozens of hides destined for use in St Petersburg. When the skins were brought to the surface, not only were they in perfect condition, it became clear that they’d been finished with a distinctive crosshatch grain. Today, our tannery replicate the original tanning process and grain print for our Russian Grain capsule collection, exclusive to Crockett & Jones. We think it gives our Radnor IV boots a handsome profile.

Finally, our Willow Grain calf is new to the collection. This is our first linear calf grain leather, and it lends a distinguished look for the Hand Grade Collection – perfect for those moments in life when you’d like to wear a formal pair of shoes, but want a change from smooth calf – our Balfour Derbys are a good example, smart, yet relaxed. This leather is a real point of pride for C&J, because Willow Grain calf shoes must be clicked along the direction of the grain for the leather to hold its grain over time, which adds an extra level of complexity to the design and manufacturing process. Thankfully, we have just the team in place to do this leather justice.

Whether you are a Pebble Grain devotee, or intrigued by the story behind our Russian Grain boots, you can rest assured that you’re investing in shoes of the highest quality, made from the very best materials. There’s something very satisfying about breaking up your polished, smooth calf shoe collection with the odd grain leather or two, and there’s plenty to choose from at Crockett & Jones... Pembroke or Coniston are as good an option as any.

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