Wax crayons are used every day at Bentley by Leather Inspectors to support the pursuit of excellence.
On their own, there is nothing obviously remarkable about these humble colored crayons. However, between the fingers of Leather Inspector Colleagues Alan Ryder and Dave Legg, they are essential to maintaining Bentleys reputation for exceptional interior quality.
Alan and Dave are part of a team that checks for natural flaws in the 70,000 bull hides that are cut, stitched and fitted into Bentley cars every year. Each hide is from Northern Europe the temperate climate reduces insect bites and lack of barbed wire fencing reduces scratches to the leather.
Leather Inspectors work on large saddle-shaped inspection tables under powerful lights, closely scrutinizing each hide to mark up any flaws with the crayons. Good eyesight is actually the main tool we have, explains Dave. Years of experience and a few special tricks also play a big part. To prove this, he and Alan spin the hide they are working with by 360 degrees, pointing out a number of tiny faults that were previously invisible. Then Dave holds up a small board to leave part of the skin in shadow. Shading techniques are also very useful, he adds. Especially when working with lighter-colored leathers. The light reflects strongly and can give you snow-blindness.
Each Inspector examines more than 80 hides a day, and Alan explains that simply spotting imperfections is only half the work. The real skill is trying to determine which natural flaws might be acceptable to a customer when the hide is stretched over a substrate during the trimming process. This isnt easy when inspecting a flat piece of leather. Also, as its a natural product the customer will expect to see some natural flaws within the interior.
Alan says: Despite working with the highest-quality leather, there are still a number of things such as stretch marks, scars and tears on the hides. We use a color code to represent the severity of the flaw in the hide. Sections marked in orange must not, under any circumstances, be used in production, but those with lesser blemishes can still be used for out-of-view areas to improve the usage of the hides. These are marked in white on lighter hides and green on darker leather.
The different colors are detected by laser-guided cutting machines that map out the most efficient way of extracting the required shapes, used to cover different parts of the cars. For example, a small permanent wrinkle in the leather would never be positioned in the center of a seat cover, but as a perfectly robust piece of leather, it may be used as a structural under-part or securing strap, out of sight.
This passion for leather can occasionally translate into their personal life. Looking for flaws in leather becomes an obsession, admits Alan. When my wife and I went to buy a sofa, I spent the whole day with my nose to the skin pointing out all manner of defects to the shop vendor. Shes banned me from going shopping since.