Skilled Italian craftsmen use strict tanning techniques handed down from generation to generation to produce far superior leather in terms of quality, appearance and tensile strength.
To understand why Italian leathers are up to five times more expensive than leathers from other countries, and how we can identify a good quality leather, we must first understand the tanning process.
The aim of the tanning process is to transform the raw skin of an animal to a useable hide of leather. Tanning can take a few forms - the most popular being chrome tanning and vegetable tanning.
Vegetable tanning is the process of soaking the skins in vegetable tannins - which are naturally occurring chemicals extracted from the bark of trees and plants, such as oak and chestnut. The tannins dehydrate the skin by bonding to the collagen proteins and modifying its molecular structure by drawing out the water and taking it's place. This creates collagen fibres - and if you look closely at a piece of leather you see these woven fibres with the naked eye. It is a slow process - but environmentally friendly - that is repeated many times over the course of up to two months by skilled craftsmen.
It is these skilled craftsmen that have learnt these techniques from their ancestors and proudly carry on the trade today. Few tanneries today have the capability of producing veg tanned leather. The time and skill involved in its production make it an expensive material - up to five times more expensive than other leathers. Few Italian tanneries continue to produce vegetable tanned leather today, as most opt for the faster, easier and cheaper chrome tanning method.
Chrome tanning uses harsh chemicals to achieve a more uniform colour in as little as one day, and can usually be dyed any colour of the rainbow. Vegetable tanned leather can take up to two months to produce, usually comes in rich, deep earth tones with a soft hand, and is up to five times more expensive than chrome tanned leather.
Veg tanned leather is a natural product - biodegradable and environmentally friendly. It will grow more beautiful over time, patina beautifully, and get softer with use. If well cared for, it will last several lifetimes. Chrome tanned is not biodegradable, thinner, and will not last as long.
Vegetable tanned leather is usually full grain which helps maintain the strength and integrity of the hide. It is usually thick and firm and more structural than chrome tanned leather, making it ideal for belts, collars, shoes, and sturdy bags. Chrome tanned leather is thinner, softer and more flexible. Often used for cheaper clothing, sofas and car seats.
The quality of the hides and the tanning process is what determines the leather's price. There are four grades of leather - full-grain leather, top-grain leather, genuine leather, and bonded leather.
Full-grain is the thickest and strongest leather - just below the hair where the grain pattern is the tightest and strongest. Full grain leather is unmodified aside from hair removal and has the most natural texture - think of the wrinkles in the palm of your hand - and comes from the top and sides of the animal. Many high-end Italian tanneries specialize in full-grain leather. Look closely at the surface of the leather to see if you can identify the grain.
Top-grain is the second best grade, which is similar to full-grain except the top has been skimmed, sanded and buffed to remove any blemishes, imperfections and natural scars. Look for a smooth surface with little grain.
After the top is split off for full-grain or top-grain, what's left is called "genuine leather", the 3rd grade of leather. Much weaker in terms of strength, and much cheaper - usually transformed into suede that is used for lining. Genuine leather will be thinner, more stretchy, and a lot weaker.
The leftovers are called "bonded leather". Bonded leather is made up of the shavings, bits & pieces ground up and sprayed to polyurethane, then spray painted to look like leather. Bonded leather will quickly fall apart and peel. Poor quality leather will be heavily painted with a tendency to crack and get worse with age - actually decreasing the lifespan of the product. Many brands have undermined their integrity by chasing volume and profits at the cost of quality.
Genuine Collars uses only full-grain, vegetable tanned leathers from reputable tanneries from Italy and around the world to produce hand-crafted leather dog collars that will only grow more beautiful with age - and can withstand the most active dogs.