This is a comparative review between the RF Clark Granchester, Filson Field Satchel, and SAB Westminster. Please note the RF Clark bag is THREE YEARS OLD, the other two are brand new.
I had been looking for a briefcase, and I initially bought a Filson Field Satchel, but after I bought it I saw a beautiful RF Clark Granchester for sale on this forum, so I bought it to try it out. First I will compare the RF Clark in Havana Brown, and the Filson in brown:
IMPORTANT: Ray Clark is still making custom bags to order, contrary to some rumors on this and other forums (I've talked to him very recently). For those that don't know who Mr. Clark is, he is a master leatherworker that made briefcases for Swaine Adeney Brigg in England for decades, and has since retired and is making bags of the same caliber, but selling them for far lower prices. His work can be purchased here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/RFClarkSaddlery
RF Clark vs. Filson:
Front of each bag:
Admittedly, the lighting in the picture of the Filson is not the best, the Filson does look better, more brown, in real life, but it is MUCH darker than the RF Clark bag. The leather of the RF Clark is just immensely richer, it has a deep and beautiful brown hue that the Filson just can't match.
Aside from color, the RF Clark also has detailing in the leather work that the Filson lacks. Notice all of the edges of the RF Clark leather, they're all beautifully finished with with an edging that makes the bag look very elegant. Note also that the straps on the RF Clark wrap completely around the bag and can be repositioned or removed, the Filson straps are sewn to the bag on the bottom and the back, they do not wrap around and cannot be removed or repositioned.
Finally, the last and most prominent differentiating feature on the RF Clark is the solid brass lock (same as SAB uses) and solid brass buckles (all metal on the RF Clark is solid brass), where all the metal on the Filson is gold plated. The brushed, solid brass lock on the RF Clark is a beautiful centerpiece to the bag, where the Filson lock is super shiny due to the plating, which is the worst element on the Filson in my opinion, it just looks cheap, especially side by side.
Side of each bag:
The side shot is where you can really see the difference in quality of materials and workmanship. Just look at the thickness of the leather used in each bag, the Filson is made from considerably thinner leather and prone to bending out of shape when stuffed. The RF Clark leather is notably thicker, holding its shape much better, especially when stuffed.
Notice the workmanship on the gussets on each bag. The Filson is made from multiple pieces of leather glued and sewn together, on the bottom of the bag the leather is just kind of bunched up. The RF Clark bag is beautifully constructed, and this is one area where you can really see the difference a master craftsman makes. The side of the RF Clark bag is made from one piece of leather, and it is hand shaped into the beautiful accordion that you can see at the bottom of the bag. Not only does it look incredible, it makes a functional difference as well. The RF Clark expands effortlessly when filled up, and when emptied, the accordion folds together to allow the bag to take on a super slim profile when it's not stuffed. The Filson is much harder to expand, causing the front of the bag to bulge out when fully packed.
Top of each bag:
From the top, you can take a look for yourself at the construction of the handles and the stitching quality. The handle on the RF Clark is shaped by hand from many pieces of leather, giving it an elegant shape that's very comfortable in the hand. The Filson's handle is just a double thick piece of leather sewn to two D rings. Both are functional, but the RF Clark handle is just that much more elegant.
I wish I took more pictures of the Filson, before I sold it, but this is all I have to show the Filson side by side with the RF Clark. I have more pics of the RF Clark below compared to the SAB.
The retail price on the Filson is $900, the RF Clark is about the same. Quite frankly, when looking at the two side by side, there is just no comparison, the RF Clark is just in a different league than the Filson. Anyone in the market for a briefcase in this price range should look long and hard at RF Clark.
I know there is some confusion that Mr. Clark has retired, but he has not. After buying the bag second hand, I emailed Mr. Clark and he is still making custom bags to order. He was happy to talk to me about caring for the bag, and he was also happy to repair the bag or replace parts if they wear out as the bag ages (while he is still in business, of course). He will custom make a bag to your specifications, you can choose leather color, square or round lock, number of gusset, buckle shape, etc. He is currently selling on etsy here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/RFClarkSaddlery, but in my most recent conversation with him he informed me that he's working on setting up his own website to sell custom products.
RF Clark vs. SAB:
I want to start this portion of the review by noting that I do not have an SAB to compare side by side with the RF Clark. The photos of the SAB are from this post on Ask Andy About Clothes: http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/forum/showthread.php?87511-Swaine-Adeney-Brigg-briefcase-amp-Filson-Satchel-(Reviews).
I took the liberty of taking pictures of the RF Clark that are very similar to the pictures of the SAB in that thread, and I will put them side by side below. I think the pictures highlight the similar quality of each bag. As an initial disclaimer, realize that the RF Clark bag has been used for three years, where the SAB is brand new.
Front of each bag:
The most obvious differences here are color shape of the locks, and shape of the strap buckles. The SAB is gorgeous, especially in that London tan color. The RF Clark can be ordered with the same London tan color, and with either square or round buckles, or a square or round lock. The thickness of the leather used in each bag is superb, both extremely high quality.
Side of bags:
This is where the craftsmanship of each bag really shows. The handwork that goes into fold the side gussets of these bags into these beautiful/functional accordions is just incredible.
Bottom of each bag:
Again, you can see the quality of the handwork in the accordion folds in each bag.
Top of each bag and handles:
Here you can see the quality of the stitch job on each and the build quality of each handle. Both beautifully done.
Back of each bag:
Not much to say here.
The stitching on both bags is perfect. The thread on each is very thick and has a very high relief. Very nicely done.
Closeup of locks:
I wish I had both bags in my hands to compare, but alas, pictures will have to do. The SAB is gorgeous, especially in that color. The fact hat the RF Clark is three years old does it no favors vs. the brand new SAB, but I think the images show off just how similar the quality of each is.
The SAB retails at about 2.5x the price of the RF Clark. Both bags are handmade in England, both by expert craftsmen, and both are of the absolute finest quality. There is no question that the SAB name carries weight, and if the brand means something to you, then that may be a reason to pick it over the RF Clark. However, if you want a bag that is built with comparable materials/craftsmanship as the SAB, from a guy that made bags for SAB for decades, and still have an extra $1,500 or so in your pocket, I don't think RF Clark can be beat.
I recommend anyone interested in a custom briefcase to send Mr. Clark a message at http://www.etsy.com/shop/RFClarkSaddlery. I can say from first hand experience that he's a gentleman and a pleasure to deal with.
I hope anyone who took the time to read this found it helpful and informative!!