Sunday, May 20, 2012

Color Guide to Horween Shell Cordovan

Photo courtesy of Michael Williams

Photo courtesy of Michael Williams
Here at Corvus, we are proud to offer NATO and two-piece watchstraps made of genuine Shell Cordovan leather made by the Horween Company in Chicago, Illinois. Horween -- and only Horween -- make this magical leather the way that it has been done for over one hundred years. It takes a minimum of six months to tan and dye a shell to get the marvelous, supple final result. The depth and complexity of colors achieved with the aniline dyes are truly remarkable.

This is a short guide to the various colors of Horween Shell Cordovan. First, the colors offered in our standard line of watchstraps. From lightest to darkest:


This is actually shell to which no color has been added at all. It is entirely undyed vegetable-tanned horse shell. When it is new, it is quite light in color -- a light tan, although the color varies depending on how long between the time it was manufactured and sold.

Corvus "Luftwaffe" Bund Pad w/ 2-piece Strap

Because it is undyed, the surface of the leather is variegated in finish. In other words, it can look as if there are subtle waterspots on the surface of the leather. This is perfectly normal. What you are seeing is the patina beginning to develop. The natural shell cordovan is perhaps the most magical of all the colors because of this characteristic -- the ability to take on a deep medium-nut brown patina with age. If you want a perfectly uniform color from the beginning that will stay more or less the same with age, you do not want natural. If you want a strap that builds visual character over time on your wrist, you want natural. It is for this reason that you rarely, if ever, see natural Shell Cordovan used for shoes. In fact, the natural is rarely found except on our watchstraps.

HORWEEN COLOR #4 (Corvus Color "Oxblood"):

Now we get to the wonderful browns and reds. Horween numbers these red/browns in order of darkness (i.e., proportion of brown to red) from #2 (lightest and most red) to #8 (darkest and most brown). We are fortunate to be able offer our watchstraps in the wonderful #4.

Corvus "Luftwaffe" Bund Pad with One-Piece Strap

We at Corvus call Color #4 "oxblood" because it has a lot of red in it, and is a rich, deep burgandy color. The surface has the most gloss of any of the dyed colors, as opposed to the mostly matte finish of the natural. This color will match many shoes and briefcases. It is a classic, preppy look. It is a very unusual color to find in Shell Cordovan and rarely available in anything but a few limited edition shoes and our Corvus watchstraps. Its manufacture is limited, as with the other lighter colors, to only the best quality shell hides.

HORWEEN COLOR #8 (Corvus Color "Dark Brown"):

Shoes by Alden, Photo by C.D. Moorby
For traditional clothing aficiandos, Horween Color #8 Shell Cordovan is an obsession, and such accessories (especially shoes) are items of veneration. It is quite simply the most famous shoe leather in the world, used extensively by Alden, Allen Edmond, Crockett & Jones, Yuketen and Beams. The appeal is due to the unusual complexity of color acheived by Horween in the dying process. When new, color #8 appears as a rich, dark brown with relatively little reddish tone. On a pair of shoes, however, as creases and folds develop, the dark brown begins to reveal a wide variety of red, reddish-brown, and even purple tones. Exposure to the sun causes further variation and lightening. Color #8 is less glossy than #4, almost, but not quite matte. Although we at Corvus call it "dark brown," the color is sometimes called "dark burgundy" or even "cordovan."


Black is jet black, with a fair degree of gloss. A wonderful color for shoes and watchstraps. It can look formal, or rock-n-roll. The black NATO strap with white stitching is striking, although the stitching around the edge of the strap is purely decorative. (Only the Natural and Black are available with optional white stitching around the edges).

Corvus "RAF" Bund Pad with Two-piece Strap


Horween also makes tiny amounts of other colors in the Shell Cordovan. They show up once in a while in custom or limited edition fashion leather goods. They are highly coveted.

A light brown dyed color. Similar in tone to brand-new Natural shell, though without the ability to achieve a patina. This color is the only way to achieve a light brown that will not darken, as the Natural will darken to a very much darker nut brown in a few months. A lovely color that was once available as a custom Alden color, although it is no longer featured on their website. Very few shells are processed in this color because its light tone shows any imperfection in the hide.  


A medium-brown chestnut color. Somewhat similar to the color the natural will darken to, but without the variability and the vintage look. A great color, also once used by Alden, but apparently no more. Also very rare for the same reasons as the other light colors.


A medium-dark brown, a bit lighter than #8, but without the complexity of color and no red tones. A great solid brown. Very rare.

Ravello on left, Cigar on right. Shoes by Alden

Navy blue shell cordovan. So rare that very few people have ever seen it or know of its existence. But it is made, and is unusual and very cool.

Shoes by Rancourt & Co., Lewiston, Maine

An olive/forest green. Reminiscent of the color of my family's 1964 Chevy Bel Air. A great, retro color, and my personal favorite right after Color #4 (Oxblood). Very rare.

Horween Color # 6:

A very obscure color that is much like #4, only darker. As suggested by the number, it is basically a reddish-brown halfway between #4 and #8. Instead, leave your  #8's in the sun for a few weeks.

Shoes by Ryder Boot Co.

Wallet by Ashland Leather
Horween Color #2:

Semi-mythical. A light reddish burgundy. About half as dark as #4, and one-quarter as dark as #8.

No comments:

Post a Comment