In Review: Chester Mox #53 Chromexcel Compact Bifold


Chester Mox is a small leather goods company founded in 2009 by husband and wife team Bellanie and Brandon Salcedo out of Monterey Park, California. Originally Voodoo Studios, the brand was renamed in 2011 as Chester Mox - Chester, for a family name, and Mox, for the plutonium and depleted uranium mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel Brandon did a paper on in high school physics class. Honestly, the name's just got cachet up the yin-yang (regardless of its origins), and after completing an apprenticeship with a renowned leather master craftsman, Bellanie has been regularly pumping out gorgeous pieces of leather porn to lust after.

I've had my eye on their products ever since I saw them featured on ThisFits and PutThisOn, and a little while ago I posted about a Massdrop deal I was able to get in on offering the Chester Mox #53 Compact Bifold on surprisingly deep discount. After a long month of pining over progress pictures as my wallet was being made, I received the wallet a few days ago - and oh, was it worth the wait.

Materials


You've likely come across Chromexcel (CXL) before if you have even a casual interest in leather goods. Developed by the renowned Horween Leather Co. in the early 1900's, CXL is a combination tanned, full aniline pull-up leather, hot stuffed with with a proprietary blend of natural oils and greases that involves 89 separate steps and 28 working days to make (here's an in-depth look on how Horween makes CXL). Full aniline leather is processed using soluble dyes without covering the surface of the hide with a protective coat (though, confusingly semi-aniline leather does has a protective coat). This way, the surface of the hide is left "naked," and displays more of the natural character of the leather. However, it's also important to note that CXL is very easily marked and scuffed because of this, though gently rubbing usually heals the area to a large degree by redistributing the oils there. As the leather is bent or stressed in any direction, the oils in the hide also migrate and cause the color to lighten, resulting in the "pull-up" effect it's famous for. Over the years, CXL has become a truly classic leather and achieved an almost cult-like following among many leather enthusiasts. It's not cheap, but its relative affordability in combination with its positive qualities have seen Chromexcel utilized in all manner of tasks. Once used in engine seals on tanks and other engines during WWII, these days you can find CXL in all sorts of leather good products, including wallets.

Chester Mox #53 Compact Bifold Chromexcel color and hide options
  
The Chester Mox #53 Compact Bifold for Massdrop was offered in either horse front or cowhide Chromexcel in five different shades - natural horse front, tan cowhide, dark green horse front, oxblood cowhide, and dark brown cowhide. I decided to go with the natural horse front. Horse tends to have a coarser grain than cowhide, and in general is thinner and considered more abrasion resistant, which is why its seen commonly in motorcycle jackets. Due to dietary habits around the world, it is also less plentiful than cowhide (just look at the prices of cordovan these days), and Horween commonly sources its horse from France, Belgium, and Quebec where it's still used for food.


The package arrived in a black Chester Mox slide-out box with a soft tan cloth bag inside holding the wallet. It's a simple but elegant presentation, and a fitting introduction to what's held inside.



As far as the wallet itself, it's simply stunning. It measures 4.25 x 2.875 x 0.35 inches thick, and features multiple pockets for cards as well as hidden pockets for folded cash. On the inside right panel, the Chester Mox logo is tastefully hot-stamped with gold foil. The leather itself has a warm, rich tone and beautiful luster to it, especially in good light. There's good visual depth with some tonal variations - for example at the spine of the wallet where the hide displays its pull-up effect.


In hand it's surprisingly soft and supple, with no rough edges or surfaces throughout. It's the type of leather that will develop a beautiful patina and age gracefully over the years.



Construction

I normally group materials and construction into one section, but I think it's important to make a clear distinction between the two in this case. Chromexcel is a fantastic leather, and naturally a lot of leather goods makers use it. You can't make a good product without good materials, but it's craftsmanship that often separates a good product from a great one. If you give the same set of ingredients to two different chefs, many times you will end up with meals of vastly different style and quality. The same applies here, and Bellanie is kicking ass in the kitchen.


If you're not familiar with the way Massdrop works, an item is put up for sale and once a certain number of orders is exceeded or the time allotted is completed, the drop ends and work begins. Bellanie was great about posting progress pictures in the comments section detailing the different steps she was going through at various stages of production.

Progress shots (Courtesy of Chester Mox)

Progress shots and final products ready for shipment - (Courtesy of Chester Mox)

I have to say I've bought a fair share of made-to-measure/made-to-order products in the past, and even though this purchase didn't include any customization, the process and pictures throughout the month from Chester Mox made this one of the most exciting, enjoyable, and frankly intimate purchases I've ever made. It was like watching my baby being born, except this baby could also hold my credit cards and metro pass.

Bellanie edge finishing with a fileteuse manuelle (Courtesy of Chester Mox)

Everything on the wallet is sewn, stitched, painted, burnished, and buffed by hand at a very high level. The panels are hand pricked with Blanchard iron prickers (imagine a sharp fork or comb-like tool, depending on the amount of teeth), and saddle stitched together with waxed polyester thread using an awl and two needles.

Bellanie saddle stitching with a Vergez-Blanchard clamp (Courtesy of Chester Mox)

Saddle stitching is an old world technique done by hand which creates a durable stitch that won't come undone, even if the thread breaks in one area. It takes time and a studied hand, but is much stronger and longer lasting than a machine sewn lock stitch. The stitching here is impeccable, confident and clean with double stitching on the corners for added strength. It's just one of many small thoughtful details throughout the whole piece.



Impressions and Value


I get very skeptical when I read a review that's uniformly glowing in its endorsement, and yet I can't come up with anything negative thing to say about Chester Mox. Their work really is that good, and Bellanie is a pleasure to talk to and very easy to get a hold of through email and on Massdrop to answer questions or deal with any issues that arise. I paid $88.89 shipped for my compact bifold, and while that's not cheap to many people, it's one of the best values I can remember in a long time given the quality of the product. If it becomes available again on Massdrop I would snatch it up in a second if you're interested, as the drop ended before full time expired because the slots were all filled. Even not on sale, this is one of the few products that I think are more than worth it at full price.

The one word of is a caution I have is that Chromexcel isn't for everyone, and if you like your stuff to stay pristine as you use it you're in for a very emotional time. However, that's an issue entirely set apart from the work Chester Mox does and really just has to do with the nature of pull-up leather. If you're not into Chromexcel, the #53 Compact Bifold and many other models are sold through Chester Mox's site in various other leathers such as shell cordovan, French boxed calf, alligator, and some museum calf I can't stop staring at.

You can check out the Chester Mox store on their site here. I'd also highly recommend taking a stroll through the site blog, which showcases some jaw-dropping products in various stages of production. In any case, they have my highest praise, and I can't recommend them enough. If you love leather, you can't help but love Chester Mox.

Potential Pros

Horween Chromexcel leather
Fantastic level of craftsmanship and finishing at very reasonable pricing, especially through a portal such as Massdrop
Top grade options and leather choices
Prompt and attentive customer service in my experience

Potential Cons

Chromexcel is a love-it-or-hate-it type of leather

Comments

  1. Thanks for taking the time to review this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. No problem, glad you found it useful!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello,

    Great review. I was leaning towards purchasing the #99 museum calf leather. I saw the wallet and loved the blue wallet. Are the back of the card pockets leather also? How long does it take to receive the wallet after it is ordered? Does everyone receive photos of the progress of making the wallet. What is Massdrop? Thanks.

    Regards,

    Gerard

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gerard,

      The pockets are one piece, so leather on both sides. Massdrop is a groupfunded website offering a whole lot of stuff, honestly, but that includes a menswear clothing and accessories wing. I previously posted about it here: https://afine-toothcomb.blogspot.com/2015/10/chester-mox-53-compact-bi-fold-wallet.html

      They don't do the Chester Mox drop that often (every few months maybe), but it was a discount from what is already a great value. That's where Bellanie posted pictures of the wallets as she was making them.

      I would email Chester Mox directly if you've got your eye on the 99 museum calf - I very highly doubt they would include that in a group purchase. She should be able to give you an ETA on availability for that product.

      Hope that helps.

      Delete
    2. Hey Dan,
      Thanks for the reply. I spoke with Bellanie after I posted this and she was very helpful in answering my questions. She even said they could put in a leather backing in the bill fold but I like it in the natural leather back. I bought the #93 in Latis Blue. It looks great. Bellanie was very helpful and she said she will send me updates on the progress of building the wallet. I wanted something made in America and the fact they these wallets aren't pre-made adds a personal touch. I don't care how long it takes because to me knowing the person who put it together makes it more valuable to me.

      Regards,

      Gerard

      PS: This is the wallet I purchased...

      https://www.chestermox.com/wallets/99-ilcea-museum-calf-lapisblue-bi-fold-wallet.html

      Delete
    3. That's absolutely gorgeous - I hope you enjoy it (I actually envy you quite a bit right now for what you're about to get). Still one of my favorite things I own. If you remember/have the time, let me know what you think when you get it.

      Delete
    4. Will do? Thanks Dan. Your review helped me make my decision.

      Regards,

      Gerard

      Delete

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