How To Distinguish Horn from Plastic

Hyperspaced

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Can a horn button be black without any real variation? I've looked, and the buttons seem to be horn based on some of the criteria above. Thanks.
 

trims

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Yes -- horn can be dyed.

Bad idea. Yes it can, but results are often disastrous. The only dyed color that comes out decent is red horn.

Horn can be black. Usually it will have some type of white marks, but every so often you'll see one that is completely black.

The darker colors are the cheapest. "Blonde" horn as it is called, is only something like 10% of the available goods, and can easily be 4-5x the cost of 'black" horn.
 

trims

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
plastic buttons are all identical, color, pattern, grain, shape. they are all identical.
although some manufactures can vary the color pattern.

horn all are different. check the grain pattern it should vary. sometimes you can feel the grain especially on the back side. and the color will vary a bit.

plastics are made by injection in multiple molds.

horn is made from blanks stamped from the horn, then turned one at a time on a lathe. then stained and polished.
any wonder they cost so much more.

There are two distinct versions of 'plastic' horn buttons:

1) Polyester -- made in long 'rods', which are then sliced into blanks and turned. Much like the picture you see a few posts above.

2) Urea -- usually moulded. These are the buttons that you can sometimes see a 'seam' around the edge if they are not finished properly. They can also be cut into blanks and turned on a lathe type machine, this lends a better look if done correctly

Urea is generally more expensive than poly.

The 'one at a time' comment above is a bit misleading. This isn't done by some artisan on an individual lathe, the turning is done on computerized button turning machines, very quickly and with very consistent results.
 

Hyperspaced

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
These buttons are completely black. There are very few blemishes, and really none on the front face. There is nothing (else) that suggests plastic, given the advice above.
 

Holdfast

Honors Member
This is going to sound weird...

Bite it.

Well, not completely, but feel the button against your teeth. No matter how well polished, I find horn feels a bit "grittier" and "firmer" than plastic (which seems slicker and more brittle).

Told you it was weird. But it also works for discerning mother of pearl from plastic too.
 

mano

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
I have never seen a high-end RTW jacket with anything but plastic buttons, by the way.

My Oxxford and Hickey Freeman suits and jackets all have horn buttons. Don't know about my Brioni and Kiton, Corneliani and Belvest, but probably they're some sort of a plastic as they're all the same color. One Belvest suit has MOP buttons!

If anyone is interested, I have quite a few matched sets of Oxxford horn buttons
for two and three button suits. I believe I also have a full set of Oxxford MOP buttons for a DB suit. I was going to sell them on ebay but haven't gotten around to it yet.
 

CPVS

Senior Member
Remarkably, this thread comes just as I find myself wondering about the buttons on my new Field (Washington, D.C.) bespoke DB. They are black, "matte" rather than glossy, and have no color variation that I can tell. I'm going to try a few of the methods you gents mention, though I hesitate to try the foolproof (or rather, perfect but fool-prone) burn test. :)
 

Otter

Starting Member
This is going to sound weird...

Bite it.

Well, not completely, but feel the button against your teeth. No matter how well polished, I find horn feels a bit "grittier" and "firmer" than plastic (which seems slicker and more brittle).

Told you it was weird. But it also works for discerning mother of pearl from plastic too.

this is good, but many people have a hard time with the tooth method. If you have access to magnification (10x or more) you may be able to see an "engine turned" effect. If you can see this, it is definately real horn. If you cannot however, unfortunately it doesn't definately mean that it isn't.
ref: Gemological institute of america
 

trims

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
this is good, but many people have a hard time with the tooth method. If you have access to magnification (10x or more) you may be able to see an "engine turned" effect. If you can see this, it is definately real horn. If you cannot however, unfortunately it doesn't definately mean that it isn't.
ref: Gemological institute of america

No, turn marks can be present on plastic also. This can happen on any button that is turned from a blank rather than moulded. Same thing goes for the finish. Neither of these are indicators unfortunately.

**Edit -- don't want to come of as contradictory, but this is coming from almost 15 years in the button industry. The methods many of you are mentioning are clues, but most won't guarantee a correct identification.
 
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Hyperspaced

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
I took my wife to see the buttons. She observed that the holes for the thread are a different color inside, which she, I think correctly, believes rules out plastic.
 

trims

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
I took my wife to see the buttons. She observed that the holes for the thread are a different color inside, which she, I think correctly, believes rules out plastic.

Again, sorry but no. Many times the holes will be a rough texture and different color -- say 'whitish' on a dark button. This is due to the drilling of the holes and the finishing process. This would usually not happen on a polyester button, but could definitely be the case on a urea item.

They're probably real horn, but not definitely based on that observation.

You guys are very impressive in your knowledge and attention to detail! :icon_smile:
 

Sator

Honors Member
The other thing to do is to try to scratch the button (the side is the best place). Both horn and MoP are an organic subtance made of calcium - like your nails. Plastic is a tad softer than the calcium in your nails.
 

Kent Wang

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
How about composites, that are made of horn dust combined with synthetics? I think I recall reading about those.
 

trims

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
How about composites, that are made of horn dust combined with synthetics? I think I recall reading about those.

It's just marketing. There's really not much of an aesthetic difference compared to a good synthetic, and there's no strength difference. They have the same thing with "MOP powder".
 
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