mimo and newcomer - very excellent posts.
i think in a sense you are both right, and it really is matter what one is looking for in a shoes purchase.
regarding looks, i have tried a few times to go back and buy shoes closer to the 250-350 range, and i just cant get myself to do it. i find the lasts blobby or far too pointy or just generally unattractive. i really honestly do not understand why your average shoe maker in the 200 - 350 range has such a hard time making lasts that dont look like garbage, just my opinion tho. i dont like all the lasts of JL, GG, EG.... but they all make many last that i love. (sidebar - newcomer, i have the lowndes as well, and the edgware which is on the same last, i think its a great last and its just as pretty as many of the last that shoes in the 1200+ range have to offer)
as far as quality, in my experience the shoes that i have had in the 200 - 350 range did not hold up nearly as well as the shoes i have in the 500+ range. i have had a ton of ferragamos (not the high end ones, the 300 - 400 ones you see in nordstrom), and they are about a 5 year shoe before the leather just looks like crap ime. i have had mezlan, johnston murphy and some others i forget, but none of them really lasted more than 3 - 5 years. they just looked worn down and crappy.
the shoes i have in the 500+ range are all less than 2 years old, but as far as i can tell, they are on the path to hold up far better. the leather looks nicer and less beat up at this stage than the 200 - 350 did at this stage, they feel great and look great. they take a polish better and when i polish them they seem to develop character, not look like i am salvaging a shoe that is one foot out the door (shameless pun).
that being said, for most people, who are not nearly this particular about shoes, and would laugh you out of the room if you said your shoes cost over a grand, and only wear nice shoes from time to time, there is almost no value added for them to go anywhere beyond AE. they are not getting any more bang for their buck in how they will enjoy their purchase.
if you are particular, at least for me, once you turn that corner, there really is no turning back. you just wont be happy if you do.
regarding 500 v 1200 shoes, i really do have a hard time saying that the GGs i have are THAT much better than the CJs/trickers/carminas i have as well. maybe the finishing is better, maybe there is something about the leather that is better, maybe they will last longer, only time will tell. but that is a hard call.
as for GG v all the other shoe makers in that price point and beyond, its just a matter of personal preference. JL, EG, Vass, corthay, cleverly, st crispin, .... they all have their fan base. there is no great reason imo to love one over the other, its just about what appeals to your eyes and tastes.
+1 for this post, stitchy. And that line above I put in bold/italics? Totally applies to me.