This particular review is perhaps a few years late to this blog. As you know, I have reviewed many belts from many makers over the years, but the big Japanese brands have always been missing…partly because I wanted to feature small workshop craftsman (and language barriers meant I could only do so with Mandarin and English speaking craftsmen) and partly because I didn’t believe buying leather goods from Japan represented good value.
For people interested in Japanese leather & denim goods, Kawatako (leather octopus) probably doesn’t need too much introduction. They are a workshop with several brands and different lines, producing everything from low-end belts held together with screws to higher end wallets made out of whale leather that breaks 4 digits in price. Other than the sword-tip belt, Kawatako is also well known for popularising the use of bridle type leather with waxy bloom, for example their hand-dyed waxy-bridle long wallets.
Anyway, long story short, I was able to acquire Kawatako’s famous “blade” belt at a very significant discount (~60 USD) some time ago. So here are my thoughts:
Firstly, there has been various iterations of the double-prong sword tip (or blade) belt over the years. Pricing ranges from 15,000 yen to 63,000 yen, depending on the type of leather used. This particular version costs approximately 160 USD.
Single-prong buckle versions also come in a variety of configurations & prices.
Basically, what we’re talking about – as far as single-layer strap & plain metal buckle belts go – is high end belting territory. It is obvious just looking at the belt & Kawatako’s other products that they are fairly well made. However, the question I asked myself when examining this belt is: “Does this belt represent fair value?”
Let us consider the leather first. This bridle-style leather used by Kawatako is more “finished” compared with most natural vegetable tanned leathers, but not so much as to cover all the natural characteristics of the cattlehide. The finish I’m talking about here is a higher oil content, achieved through the addition of fats & waxes after the leather has been tanned. The back-side has also been smoothly finished. The leather thickness is measured by me at an 12 oz (4.8 mm).
Immediately, the effects of this post-tannage currying are obvious:
A slightly darker than natural colour.
A less rigid hand compared with unfinished leathers.
A smoother but more pronounced grain that has a light pull-up.
This is good leather indeed, reminiscent of English bridle from Sedgwick.
The buckle appears to be thick, solid brass which is smoothly finished – fairly solid.
The method of securing the buckle fold is very interesting, being tied by a single leather strip through four holes. This is not a very secure method (you can see in the photo below the strap is imperfectly folded as a result), but it does add an interesting, signature twist to the overall aesthetics. The overall look, enhanced by the sword-tip finishing at the other end, is unmistakably Kawatako. This is one of those rare pieces where, at first glance, it is easy to identify the maker.
One flaw is obvious at the buckle end though! The prongs are installed too loosely. The prongs wobble about as I try and buckle up; there is too much movement. I believe this is due to both the prong holes being cut imperfectly (see that flaring of the folded edge?), and the prongs being installed too forwardly.
Otherwise, the finishing of the belt is fairly good. The edges are nicely burnished with what appears to be a gum finish, and are smooth to touch. The holes are a nice oval shaped, cut cleanly and perfectly aligned.
Okay, lots of details critiqued here, and perhaps I am being more picky compared to usual. But do remember this is a fairly expensive belt! My expectations are similarly matched with the pricing.
Is this a good belt? Yes.
Is this a good value belt? No.
The conclusion: The detailing, although good, is not up to the standards that the pricing would demand and the leather, although nicely finished, could be a bit thicker at this price. As a belt that cost twice the amount of Terry Dear’s Quercus belt and is the same price as Equus’ russet bridle belt, the value proposition isn’t very good.