Crockett and Jones Hand Grade

Crockett and Jones Cavendish

A few years ago, a friend asked me for advice about what shoes he should buy, wanting to move away from overpriced and poor quality designer brand shoes and into high quality men’s shoes for work (Banking, specifically). He’s from Manchester and really liked the idea of wearing an English shoe, but he didn’t see the value in spending circa 1000£ on the top end of the market for ready to wear. My recommendation was to buy a couple of pairs of shoes from Crockett and Jones. He bought a couple of pairs, loves them and says they still look a good as new, a couple of years later and with multiple wears each week. I’ve been a big fan of Crockett and Jones since I developed an interest in menswear and that was only solidified when I met the family at Pitti Uomo a couple of years ago.

Now in their 5th generation of family ownership, Crockett and Jones are among the best known names in English (Northampton, specifically) ready to wear shoemaking and have been for the better part of the last 140 years. They’re the best serious first step for those wanting an authentic English shoe, made well, with quality materials. The breadth of their range covers everything from driving shoes and loafers, through to dress shoes and the iconic, rugged “Coniston” boot.

Crockett and Jones Hand Grade

From a price perspective, between Crockett and Jones and the other best known, more expensive English makers like Edward Green, Gaziano and Girling and John Lobb, there’s somewhat of a chasm (a jump of around +500£, give or take).

Worn in over 6 months

That’s partly to be expected (although it is a huge jump in price) and the major reasons for this are scale and materials. Crockett and Jones strength lies in their scale, making many thousands more pairs of shoes than England’s other best known makers. Additionally, their Main Line collection (comprising the bulk of the their offering) doesn’t go to the same levels as the other makers in finishing and materials (more on that below). This comes back to my earlier point about Crockett and Jones being the first serious step in wearing English shoes – A very well made product using quality materials, thoroughly fit for purpose and fairly priced.

Crockett and Jones Hand Grade offering bridges that gap between their Main Line shoes and the likes of Edward Green, moving up to a shoe which approaches (in many ways matches) the finish and quality of other makers 1000£ shoes, for close to half the price.

Crockett and Jones Cavendish

Making a shoe is effectively a breakdown of the costs incurred in labour and materials and about 80% of the cost of a shoe will be taken up with the quality of the leather (better grades of skin cost more and this relates to all parts of the shoe including the outer leather, lining and sole), as well as hand finishing. How you finish a shoe (hand channeled soles, burnishing and hand polishing take a significant amount of time and therefore add significantly to the cost.

Just as in any other industry, the scale that Crockett and Jones has allows their margin per sale to be significantly reduced, making their profit through volume (though they’re hardly mass producing shoes, by any means). Additionally, their buying power means they can buy the same leathers as other, smaller makers, for far less. Same materials + greater volume = lower price.

Crockett and Jones Cavendish

Materials: The quality of the leather on your shoe comes down to the grade of leather used and the tanning process. Leather is sold in grades and for the Hand Grade collection, the leathers used are Grade A or Grade 1’s (if the handbag manufacturers haven’t already bought them all first) which is the highest quality of leather available. These hides come from younger calves, with softer skin and a finer “break”. The break refers to the creases formed when the leather is bent. A finer break equates to smaller creases and more supple leather which both feels better and will last longer. Secondly, the tanning process has a significant impact on the finished product and certain tanneries have greater expertise in tanning high grade leathers. The end product is a calf leather which, in quite a literal sense, is the best available anywhere in the world. The soles in the Hand Grade range also undergo a similar level of quality control.

James Fox (Head of Marketing) and myself at Pitti

Handwork: The other side of the equation is how the shoes are finished. The Hand Grade collection puts more emphasis on the internal finishing (using a higher grade full leather lining), hand channeling (where a channel is cut into the sole, the stitches hidden, then covered with a cement and hammered down to create a clean, stitch free sole). Additionally, there’s a great deal of effort put into burnishing and polishing the shoes, which is particularly noticeable due to the lighter colour of my tan Cavendish’ loafers (having worn them for months already, I’ve since partially stripped them back and polished them myself). All up this adds about 2 weeks to the process.

I’m hoping that we might get to see some additions to the Hand Grade collection in the future, specifically in terms of the icons like the Cavendish loafer. Being able to buy Cavendish’ in Hand Grade quality, even if just in black and dark brown calf would be ideal and incredible value for money, particularly when sat alongside Edward Green’s (equally iconic) Belgravia loafer.

Crockett and Jones Cavendish

Having had the chance to get to know the brand better over the last few years and having spoken with James Fox quite a bit in preparation for this article, I’ve had a number of my own preconceptions overturned. The assumption that if Crockett and Jones (hand grade, specifically) are half the price of other makers literally down the road then there must be a significant difference in the quality of the product, is false. Yes, there are still differences, but they’re more idiosyncratic about how each brand wants to make and finish its shoes. In terms of leather, construction and finishing, there’s not a great deal to tell Crockett and Jones Hand Grade apart from Northampton’s other higher end makers… and they’re half the price.

Note: Full disclosure; I paid full retail price for my Hand Grade shoes.

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri. They have 2 little boys born 11 months apart, which was funny for about 2 seconds before reality set in.

8 Comments

  • Reply October 1, 2019

    Vinay

    Hi Andrew,

    Interesting article.

    I am interested in a pair of quality shoes. I have typically bought from the Loake 1880 range but I want to go to the next level. Given the limited options of shoe brands that have a physical presence in Australia, I am somewhat limited to what is offered at Double Monk which is C&J and Edward Green. I also agree with your article that its important to try on shoes in person to find a last that suits ones individual feet. That makes it difficult to order shoes from offshore brands such as J Fitzpatrick, Carmina etc.

    I am comparing between the C&J benchgrade (models on the 341 last) vs the handgrade (models on the 363 last). Do you believe there is a significant step up in the quality and finishing detail on the handgrade vs benchgrade to justify the higher price? I also walk a lot and am thinking of going the benchgrade for the city rubber sole. I understand the handgrade only have the closed channel stitched leather soles.

    Based on your article, it seems as though you also feel the price of the handgrade C&J is a relative bargain compared to the prices of EG given similar levels of quality and finishing. Does that mean you would only buy C&J handgrade rather than spend more on EG?

    • Reply October 2, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      I started with Loake 1880 🙂 They’re what kicked off my whole menswear obsession.
      I think that where you’re coming from, C&J bench grade will perfectly sufficient. Handgrade have nicer leathers and finishing, but if you’re going to be stretched to get to that price point, then go with benchgrade and get stuck in to polishing them yourself. If spending the extra on handgrade isn’t a problem, then get them as the leather will age better, but you’re comparing 2 things (benchgrade and handgrade) which are already great products and exceptional value for money.

      r.e. the Edward Green question, I’d regard C&J handgrade as being on par, so I can’t see any logic in spending double for the same product. The only reason would be if you specifically prefer EG’s last. EG’s Belgravia and C&J’s Cavendish are each brands offering of a round toe tassel loafer. I prefer EG’s Belgravia last as it’s more elegant….but I’m not going to pay double for it. If I was going to spend Edward Green money on a pair of shoes (same price point as Lobb, Cleverley etc) I’d skip right past all of them and go straight to Saint Crispin’s. For the same money, you’ll have what I regard to be the best value high end mens shoe in the world and they’re better than bespoke from most makers who charge triple the price.

      In summary – on a budget I’d be ordering Carmina’s or Lof and Tung online and exchange them if needed to get the fit/last right. Second price point – C&J benchgrade. Third price point, skip EG’s and go C&J handgrade (same shoe, half the price). Final price point – skip everything and buy Saint Crispins (have them personalise a last for you).

      Hope that helps.

  • Reply October 2, 2019

    Vinay

    Thanks for the comprehensive response. I agree the Loake 1880 is a good starting point.

    I will likely try on both the C&J bench and handgrade models at Double Monk and decide which ones I like the best. Also, it will depend on which last suits my foot as well. Because I walk a lot in my shoes, I tend to prefer something with the city rubber or Dainite sole and reserve the nicer leather soles for the shoes used more occasionally.

    Interesting comments regarding EG. I agree that I could not tell a noticeable difference between the C&J handgrade and EG shoes when viewed side by side in person.

    Saint Crispin’s sound great. But when you are comparing the price point of EG and SC, are you referring to their RTW or MTM/bespoke? The difficulty is finding a supplier in Australia so I can try a few different last shapes to see if they work for me. Its a lot to spend on a show when you can only view them online.

    Where did you buy your Saint Crispin’s from?

    Thanks for your advice.

    • Reply October 9, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      Fair enough on the rubber/dianite sole preference. They’ll be easier to repair, they just won’t breathe as well as leather.
      Saint Crispin’s mtm will cost a little more at first as there’s the cost of having a last made (it’s a few hundred $, from memory) but once that’s done it’s the same price as ordering a pair on a standard last. They don’t make batches of shoes, rather, each pair are made to order so it doesn’t matter to them if it’s a standard last or your custom last.
      Pretty sure Double Monk can also measure you for Saint Crispin’s. If they can’t, you can just email Saint Crispin’s website (it’ll likely go to Philip, anyway) and he’ll tell you who can fit you.

  • Reply October 2, 2019

    Vinay

    I forgot to ask, in your opinion, where does Gaziano and Girling sit in terms of Edward Green and Saint Crispin’s?

    • Reply October 9, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      I’d put G&G on par with EG (different people have different loyalties and will swear by one over the other). Saint Crispin’s, for me, are comfortably a level or two above the others.

  • Reply October 15, 2019

    Vinay

    Great.
    Thanks.

  • Reply October 16, 2019

    Vinay

    Hi Andrew,

    I also had a question on branded shoe trees. For a RTW shoe such as the C&J bench or hand grades, is it preferable to buy the C&J shoe trees? They seem quite expensive and I wondering if they would do a better job than say a non-branded product that is made of similar materials (e.g. cedar or limewood) and has a full shape, including the heel. I have purchased shoe trees from the Herring UK website at half the price of the C&J model and they seem quite decent. I can’t help but think it’s overpriced. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks.

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