So you're shopping for a leather wallet. A quick Google search yields millions of results, with wallets ranging from the low teens to hundreds of dollars for a single wallet. They're all "leather" -- why is one more expensive than another?
The most popular answer to this question is: "you're paying for the name". This answer over-simplifies things to a tremendous degree. While the prestige of a brand name may allow for a price premium, usually that prestige was built on some foundation of style, quality, and usually both.
Here are a few of the things you can look for when evaluating wallets:
Quality of the Materials
Every wallet we sell is made from "full grain leather". Inferior wallets will use pigmented leathers (heavily dyed to hide imperfections), "split leathers" which are essentially leather refuse, or "reconstituted leather" which, as it sounds, consists of putting scraps of leather into a shredder and re-making a pulp that can be rolled back into leather. To put a price tag on "full grain leather", as of 2008, leather can be bought for as little as $1/foot to $5/foot just in the main raw material.
Pockets are a good place for manufacturers to ttrim the cost of a wallet. Inferior wallets will substitute nylon where high-end craftsmen will use leather to line the wallet. Nylon is more prone to rips and tears, but it costs signficantly less than leather.
And even the stitching can make a difference. You might think all threads are created equally, but they are not. Some threads are woven to be stronger than others, and you can imagine how the choice of a cheaper, weaker thread can threaten the entire construction of a wallet.
Methods of Construction
A good quality wallet will have a natural fold to it, a natural convexity. A machine-made wallet will often lay perfectly flat, as it was laid flat for a machine to stitch it together. Hand-stitching usually allows more stitches per inch than a machine-sewn wallet. There is a limit to stitching -- if the stitches are too close, the leather is essentially perforated. A quality, hand-made wallet should have at least 6 stitches per inch, and most the wallets we carry have 8 stitches per inch.
The corners of a wallet are another good spot to detect the quality of construction. A high-quality wallet will usually undergo the time-consuming process of slightly rounding the corners by pinching the leather, and hand-sewing it closed. An inferior wallet, on the other hand, will more likely have a 90° corner executed by a machine.
Pockets can be sewn in many different ways as well. The proper way to make a pocket is to individually cut each piece of leather for a pocket, fold the top, sew it together, and trim the excess material for a clean, sturdy pocket. The least expensive way to make a pocket is to leave it raw; a piece of leather is just sewn in around three edges to form a pocket.
While one can argue there are hundreds of styles of wallets out there -- bi-folds, tri-folds, ID wallets, breast pocket wallets, and credit card cases to name a few -- the basic components of wallets leave little room for major innovations. Most wallets are designed to (1) carry bills [ and coins less often], (2) hold cards [credit cards, IDs, membership cards, etc.], and (3) fit into a pocket [front, back, or breast].
While we recognize that "you get what you pay for" is not always true, we would argue that, in most cases, the sentiment applies to wallets. An $80 wallet is going to look better and last longer than a $20, $40, or even a $50 alternative.