You might remember Ian of Hubb Leather from the Craftsmen’s Own wallet post last December – I’ve been hoping to review a product from each of the craftsmen featured, and so it is today we’ll be taking a look at a very interesting piece by this British belting specialist.
Ian has been working with leathers for around 6 years now, starting off with making a camera strap for himself. The joy of leather crafting had taken hold, and since that time Ian’s work has become progressively more refined with influences from British, American and other European styles of leather work.
I came across Hubb Leather by chance on Instagram last year, and was immediately intrigued by Ian’s playful & memorable takes on classic workwear leather goods.
Featured today is Ian’s very interesting take on the British bridle belt – the Partner belt, in English bridle leather and fitted with aged Marshalsay (quick-release) buckle. This is a true work belt for sure, and yet the details and aesthetics are quite different from the traditional British saddlery styles of belting often seen on this blog. Indeed, the belt is named after Clint Eastwood’s character in the 1969 movie ‘Paint Your Wagon’…
Let’s have a look.
This bridle belt features Clayton’s version of the famous English bridle style of leather. For many years, as far as bridle leathers are concerned, Sedgwick’s hand-finishing had always been miles ahead of everyone else. Clayton’s tannery however, had focused on innovation, adopting a modernized approach to making bridle styles of leathers, evening applying it to horsehide!
(Baker’s version of the bridle is very different, and I think it’s best considered in its own, separate category.)
I’ve showcased all of these bridle leathers on this blog over the years. However, Sedgwick’s currying operation has actually been purchased by Clayton’s parent company in recent times, and as a result true English bridle leather will now come from either Baker’s tannery or Clayton Leather Group. Sedgwick’s English bridle is now part of Clayton’s line-up of leather tannages, produced as the ‘traditional’, hand-crafted version of bridle leather; Clayton’s own version of the bridle, which they have been producing prior to the acquisition, is now sold as the ‘modern’ bridle range.
Technicalities and origins aside, this Conker English bridle leather featured on the Partner belt is shiny, supple, and hard-wearing with an open but condensed grain.
The characteristic waxy bloom tells of the hand-stuffing process (mostly polished off before it got to me, but traces can still be seen).
The density of this leather is produced by a setting/compression process.
If there ever was a leather that has been engineered for belting, English bridle leather would be it; unless the patina potential of a natural or unfinished leather is desired, no other modern leather can make as nice a belt as English bridle, IMO.
The backside of the leather is very nicely finished, having a smooth ‘waxed-flesh’ style of texture, and also demonstrates waxy bloom.
At around 4.0 mm thick (10 oz), this English bridle leather makes for a moderately hefty strap. The incredible density of this leather adds to the ruggedness too.
The keeper is made with Italian bridle leather. This is an interesting leather I’ve not come across before; it is more variegated in grain finish compared with English bridles. The dark brown colour makes for interesting contrast to the Conker coloured strap. Ian has told me he can also make the belt strap with Italian bridle leathers.
Styling, Hardware, Details & Construct
In case you haven’t guessed from the name, Ian was inspired by the rough & rugged miner’s style of the American Old West in the creation of this Partner belt. It is the fusion of this rougher style of Americana and British saddlery work which makes this belt very unique.
On one hand we have the classic European materials: British and Italian leathers, linen threading, Marshalsay quick-release buckle. On the other, we have Americana styling: rounded edges, hand saddle-stitched perimeter, contrast keeper. It is a confluence of styles and details…
This combination could have ended up looking way too busy or mismatched – certainly would have been the case if I had ordered a custom design from Ian, haha. Seriously though, Ian has made it work, tying together the various elements to create a very unique styling that is more than just another quick-release belt.
Let’s have a look at the details then. First, this Partner belt is a narrower work belt, being only 3.07 cm wide (1.2″). I’ve never tried such a narrow belt before, but I find that it does work very well with work-wear style pants and, of course, denim jeans!
At the front end while worn, we have a mix of colours: the off-white threading, the aged brass, the Conker of the strap and the dark brown of the keeper. I feel the darker colour of the keeper ties the aged brass nicely to the Conker colour of the strap.
Speaking of the brass, this Marshalsay quick-release buckle has been gone through a forced patina process; Ian has used baking soda, organic cider vinegar, sea salt and heat to produce the surface effects you see in the photos here.
Marshalsay buckles were originally used by 19th century English firefighters, allowing them to quickly deploy the leather water hoses of that era.
The quick-release operation of the buckle is pretty straight forward – simply press downwards on the bottom hinge, which then allows the top hinge to be pulled to the right side, thus opening up the buckle like you see the the photo below.
This quick release mechanism probably saves you only a second or so of time, when it comes to unbuckling your belt. Very cool to play around with, nevertheless, and the somewhat unusual buckle shape and bolted hinges do contribute heavily toward the work-style of this belt.
The patina work that Ian has done nicely outlines the individual components of the buckle, and even some of the finer detailing such as the textured thumb press you see in the photo above.
The keeper has been sewn in, and is quite firmly set in place – it does not wobble or shift with use.
The hand-saddle stitch at the buckle fold is very nicely done. The tension is even and firm, but Ian has taken care that the threads do not bite into the leather.
Indeed, at the edges of the buckle fold, you’ll see that although the threading sits close to the leather, there is no damage to the grain or the edge itself.
The prong hole has been precisely made, and during operation the prong does not wobble at all. This is particularly important for a quick-release buckle, as the prong shoulders the majority of the pressure on the belt when the actual buckle has been released.
The backside of the buckle fold is neatly finished too.
Onto the strap itself.
One of the defining features of the Partner belt is the full perimeter saddle-stitching. This does take much time and effort, of course, but Ian’s stitch-work is remarkably careful and consistent throughout the length of the strap.
At 5 SPI in density, there are approximately 420 individual stitches on this belt!
The tear-drop shaped holes are a very nice touch, and work well with the front-end design and the curvature on the buckle.
The strap is finished with a short, pointed tip.
The backside of the belt, in terms of leather and stitching, is just as refined as the rest of the belt. In fact, factoring out the orientation of the buckle and keeper, the belt could very well be worn in reverse and still look great!
Finally, one of the most impressive aspects of this belt is Ian’s edge finishing. In case you’re new to the leather hobby, I can tell you that the edges you see in the photos here are the results of very impressive burnishing work!
Granted, English bridle leather, given the density, is not a difficult leather to burnish. However, the way Ian has curved and smoothed over the edges is still very impressive.
The beeswax burnish is slick, moderately shiny and very consistent even at the buckle fold. The burnishing work really adds an extra level of refinement to the belt, and helps bind the various details together into a coherent whole.
I can’t say enough goods things about the burnish on the edges! No fluffiness at all. Super smooth. Sexy, almost. 😀
All in all, this Partner belt is a work belt in name and styling, but truly can be considered an heirloom piece in terms of materials and craftsmanship.
The Partner belt from Ian at Hubb Leather is very different from the other work belts in my collection – for me it is one of the most unique and thoughtful designs I’ve come across. It stands out in many ways, from the blending of British and American styling to the relative narrowness of the strap contrasting with the full perimeter saddle-stitching… many interesting details which combine well, resulting in a belt that fully compliments denim jeans and vintage style work-wear.
Ian’s playful design and considered crafting allow the many contrasting components to combine into a sensible whole. I think this belt is a great take on Old West leather goods: clean but shabby, rugged but refined, a Western work belt for the modern age.
The more I look into the finer aspects of this Partner belt, the more I’m impressed by Ian’s work. No short-cuts have been taken here – everything from the 400+ hand-stitches to the custom patina creation for the buckle requires much time, effort and skill.
The materials used are impressive too. The bridle leathers, linen threading and solid brass Marshalsay buckle are all top of the line – it doesn’t get any better than this, unless you were to request fully customised materials from the tanner or blacksmith.
All in all, I’m very impressed by my first piece of leathercraft from Ian at Hubb Leather. The Partner belt is a confluence of creative thinking, old world materials and considered craftsmanship, and definitely has a place in your wardrobe no matter how extensive your belting collection may be!
Looking for some Old West styling with British refinement?
Check out Hubb Leather on Instagram @hubb_leather.
Or e-mail Ian directly: hubbleather AT icloud DOT com