Finally, after five years, my first post!
I've been in the process of upgrading my wardrobe for a while and looked into getting a few nice belts to replace some ill-fitting or poorly constructed ones. I read through lots of threads here and saw some nice references to Mark Kielty and Bill Julian, and took a plunge. At the same time, I bought a few belts from well-known producers heavily discounted from retailers or on eBay. I sent an email to Mark, and he called me back to chat, get to know me, what I was looking for, and all the rest of it. He got in touch with Bill on my behalf and it started the process.
I picked out the buckle that I wanted, and had a few customizations made to it, and then got a few samples for the strap because I hadn't figured what color or even skin to choose. I'd initially thought of just a plain calf, but Mark told me to check out the various skins and consider something more exotic if I were going to Bill because he can do some really special things. After seeing and feeling the samples (two gator, one ostrich, and a shark -- the shark was really surprising; it was far softer and more pliant than I'd have imagined, but it was very durable. Unlike any other shark skin object I'd handled), I went with a 'chocolate gator.'
Curious about how the gator would look, I picked up a Brioni belt, roughly the same width (~1.25"), color, and finish. It was nice, and I wondered how it would compare to the belt that I'd just ordered -- my first really custom-made item. I just got the new belt last night and decided to take a few photos to compare and contrast some of the differences between a well-made Brioni belt and a Kielty+Julian belt.
In the first two photos, you can see the Brioni buckle attached to the strap, the range of motion, and how the strap fits through the buckle. It's a little clumsy because you have to really aim the strap through it to ensure that the strap goes into the keepers while also preventing the buckle's prong from digging into the strap on the way through it.
The next two photos are a comparison of the front-side strap and buckle and a close up of the straps. The T-2 buckle is missing the metal keeper, but it still shows well. The close-up of the straps gives a sense of the generally smooth character of appearance.
The photo, along with the detail of the back, also brings up a very interesting difference: the Brioni has nice, even stitching. On Julian's strap, the skin is even more prominent, in a sense, because the stitching is totally hidden through part of his process. It's a much cleaner look.
In the photo of the reverse side of the buckle and strap, it's obvious that the snaps are hidden by a rather elegant flap, and it's easy to see how sturdy and well fixed the snaps are with the close-up photo. The Brioni buckle has some stitch work and seems to be glued as well.
These shots are some of my favorites -- profile of the buckle and belt loop for the buckle to fit. Compared to the Brioni, this has a much greater range of motion. In the last photo, you can see how, by flipping up and forward, the strap can pass through easily, glides directly into the keepers, and won't snag or have any issues with the prong. The buckle and prong curve inward slightly, too, so it fits the waist better and hooks into the strap holes more securely without pulling the hole/strap.
The strap up close from the profile also shows how much more supple the Julian gator leather is. You can't fully appreciate the leather difference until you see them in person and feel them. An older friend saw both and held them, commenting that the Brioni best was "nice, but, oh, this other belt. In 60 years, you won't be able to find anybody who can make one like this." There's a glow to it, a sheen greater than the matte Brioni strap, but not shiny like a glazed gator. The silver buckle and gator strap feel so supple, solid, and firm -- I can't stop touching them and smelling the leather (if you love the smell of great leather, you'll love it)
There are a lot of subtle and elegant traits to the Kielty+Julian belt that give it a greater usability and seem to promote greater fit and longer life for the belt. It was not inexpensive, but I've spent a bit on shoes, suits, and the rest. It's nice to have a belt that looks nice and isn't over-stated, and feels and wears beautifully. I've already had more compliments for it than I have had for any other belts. I can't tell somebody that it's worthwhile for them to spend their money on a custom belt, but I'm already in the process of getting two more, and in a larger size!
Also, for those wondering about the precious stones on the top and bottom of the buckle, they do give a very subtle spark to the buckle, but are also a lot for the wearer's enjoyment. When you look down, the stone adds a lot of color.