My two favorite pair of dress shoes are color 8 (reddish/brownish or a sort of burgundy/eggplant, it varies from shoe to shoe) shell cordovan (alden blucher and alden loafer). I had two belts that could perhaps complement the shoes, a very old crocodile belt that's near the end of its usable life and an alligator belt from Joseph Bank that's fine but not so professionally put together - the slabs of alligator (if that is what the belt is made of) are small and constantly threatening to pull away from each other. Having grown tired of the two possible solutions, i went looking for a shell cordovan belt. It was an interesting experience, and I figured it would be worth sharing.
First, shell cordovan is a somewhat different beast than typical leather. It is made from a particular part of a horse's hide that requires a great deal of tanning and processing, and it is significantly more firm and durable than the calfskin used to make most good men's dress shoes. It also looks different than calfskin leather - hard to describe exactly, but they take a shine differently, tend to look a little less glossy at first, but look a fair bit better over time than calfskin. they also wear differently, both in how the leather molds to your foot and how the creases and folds that calfskin can get over time tend to be less pronounced. I figured shell cordovan belts, like the shoes, would wear differently, would last longer than a typical leather belt, and would look better with the shoes.
Second, because the 'shells' used to make shell cordovan are from a relatively small area of the hide, the belts are made from 2 or 3 pieces of hide, not one piece like most leather belts. (for whatever it's worth, my favorite leather belts are from J. Press and Coach, 'harness' leather that tends to last longer). also, because this leather is thicker/harder, it's important to note how it's put together and finished. it can't be an easy leather to work with.
it seems Alden used to sell shell cordovan belts but haven't stocked them for a while. unfortunate.
Brooks Brothers makes belts from this material in a few colors, for about $250 a pop. I looked; the way the pieces were put together didn't look like they were terribly well-finished. I passed.
A website called Ben Silver sells what look like very nice belts...for a wallet-swallowing $385 bucks each. wow. and only available with brass buckles, no nickel option.
a Maine-based outfit, Rancourt, makes what look like pretty nice belts, with an unusual variety of colors, for a relatively reasonable $215...brass buckles with a nickel finish. from their photos, the finishing looks good.
I ended up in an Allen Edmonds store near my office. (I work in Washington DC - in addition to that place, there is an Alden store within walking distance and an outstanding small seller of very fine shoes, Sky Valet, near Georgetown. Can't speak highly enough about Sky Valet, who easily have the best selection of brands i have found here). Allen Edmonds sells them in black, burgundy, and brown for around $200. 3 pieces of shell, pretty well put-together. rather chunky brushed nickel buckle. i thought the finish on one of the pieces of leather felt a tad rough but anticipated it would smooth out over time. I'm very happy with it.
at some point, if i'm hunting for a nice gift, i might look again at Rancourt, unless Alden decides to start selling them again.