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Whaler & Co. No. 8 Custom Leather Briefcase Vs. Swaine Adeney Brigg Winston Satchel


Dec 29, 2010
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Swaine Adeney Brigg Winston Vs. Whaler No.8 Custom Briefcase

My Swaine Adeney Brigg is a very early piece, circa 1980s, when the company was still going by their old name, Swaine Adeney. What a piece of work!! A design remained virtually unchanged through the past decades, instantly recognizable, from any distance.

When I got it, it was kept inside its original package. Fresh out of the box, the SAB gives a distinctive, overwhelming smell of leather, which is rather pleasant. The smell lingers for months; I have rather gotten used to it. For the past year or so, it has been the only one I carried, till now.

The Whaler is a surprise. I first saw a friend carrying one around work, produced by a little-known outfit in San Francisco I have never even heard of. Because their shop is rather nearby, I dropped by for a visit. Three weeks later, I become a two bag kind of guy.

Winston is a Larger Bag. Whaler No.8 is a Medium Size Satchel.

SAB Winston Is Not As Thick As the Whaler. Both are Well-Proportioned.


SAB uses 6-7 oz bridle leather tanned by Sedgwick. This type of leather, as I understand, is getting hard to come by because almost all of it is going to Japan and China nowadays. Just like any other type of commodity, leather has developed into a futures market. SAB is able to still use Sedgwick mainly because of their long-term contract with the tannery. Sedgwick leather is legendary for its waxy finish and a muted sheen. In lighter color, it tends to tarnish if exposed to moisture or grime. I have taken extra care not to stain the leather.

One thing really interesting about Whaler is the way their leather is created. In their shop it is stacked full of paper-white vachetta leather, the kind of naked leather normally seen on Louis Vuitton. I was told their leather stock comes from the same tannery traditionally producing for Vuitton. And the foreman would dye each sheet like a painting. Quite a sight. Intrigued by their production process, I asked why they eschew tannery leather. "Not the right color, not the right feel," I was told. The foreman showed me about a dozen leather strips of various shade of brown that are either too deep or too red. Their house leather can be characterized to have a wax paper like matte finish.

The "Whaler No. 8" comes in three sizes. I ordered the medium to complement the larger SAB. It is constructed with a thicker leather than the SAB, which gives the whole thing a rather stiff look. It is actually not too hard to open and shut, but clearly not intended as a piece of clothing. The foreman showed me how they would start with a stiff leather, rolling it by hand in the preparation to be shaped on a wooden form. So the finished satchel would come with a sculptural quality. Quite different from a soft satchel offered by Ghurka and some other quality makers.

Comparing the two, I would say the Whaler is about 20% stiffer than the SAB, given the fact the leather comes from a heavier stock.


The SAB stands out in its classic retro look. With my laptop and other essentials thrown in, it actually stays rather slim. The Whaler comes with wider gussets; I have ordered mine with a two-gusset setup. Instead of adding a third gusset, I find it to be much more user-friendly to the gadgets I am usually lugging about. I've heard SAB can be ordered in a two-gusset configuration as well, although I have yet to see one in real life.

Both cases are hand stitched. That's the one thing I knew I must have. A very impressive feature for an American maker to offer hand stitching. From a production point of view, it is rather like going back to the 15th century. I personally have seen only the best leather craftsmen manage to stitch by hand. Among a handful of brands in the world that still offer hand stitching, Hermes and SAB are the only two I know of who would stitch the entire piece by hand. Other than that, I have seen a few hand stitched Purple Label portfolios carrying astronomical price tags (Italian Job). Louis Vuitton had gotten into trouble for advertising "hand stitching" when, in fact, the only hand stitched parts are the handles on their large suitcases.

Seen side by side, SAB applies a traditional English stitching pattern throughout; Whaler uses a staggered high-contrast pattern. Both are skillfully accomplished with minimal distortion. I have to say that hand stitching, no matter how perfect, will not be as even as a pair of jeans stitched on a Singer. Of course it is purely a personal preference. To me, when holding something made by hand by another human being, it feels special.

The Swaine Adeney Brigg handle is a traditional bone-folded handle with ridges on both sides, which has become synonymous with the brand. It comes with just the most excellent flex and grip. Needless to say, this design has been perfected through 200 years of trials and error. It is entirely made by hand with the best attention to detail. On the other hand—no pun intended—the Whaler guys have put an elegant, massive handle on the No. 8. From an engineering point of view, it is well thought of. It does not have the flex like the SAB handle, but provides a more ergonomic grip. It is made with a ridge to go between the fingers. Because I have bigger hands, I prefer the Whaler handle for carrying a heavy load. But the SAB handle looks absolutely flawless. For everyday carrying, both are terrific.

SAB has the reputation of folding their gussets beautifully, no exception here. While the Whaler has good folding techniques, it is not quite as neat, which I guess in part has to do with using a heavier leather.

SAB seals their lock plate with a circular stitching. Whaler chooses to seal it with glue. The explanation I got is for the ease of future lock repair. Very curious, since I don't think it will need any kind of oil change. Besides, both manufactures have the same type of locks.

One thing that stands out with the Whaler is the white edges. Looking closely, it appears to be coated in wax. This look is quite different from the SAB, which comes with painted edges, like every other briefcase I have ever seen.


Whaler wins the battle hands down. As much as I love my SAB, the strap is almost like an afterthought.

Case in point: the Whaler strap carries no less than three hand stitched snap anchors. The SAB has one, and not done in matching quality to the rest of the bag.

The SAB shoulder pad is pretty much decorative—basically a small piece of leather lined with pigskin, so few would find relief on their shoulders.

Both satchels are quite heavy. The carrying strap makes the Whaler feel like a lighter load thanks to the large contact surface and the extra soft padding.


Both satchels are examples of an everyday accessory made right: unobtrusively designed, perfectly proportioned, made to last. Both have taken an anachronistic approach in their production process with unbridled attention to detail.

If I have to pick one? Sure, I’d carry either one to work any day. If the SAB is a tailored Bond Street pinstripe, the Whaler would be a quality piece of Scottish tweed.



Jun 17, 2013
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I read your review with interest - well balanced.

In reality, do you find the branding on the front flap of the Whaler to be a little excessive?

In your photos, the branding seems to be a little heavy-handed, but that may not reflect the briefcase in reality and it may be more subtle than it appears here.

I'm considering the Whaler, ( a mint Winston is a rare find these days) and would appreciate an objective opinion.


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