Leather As a Material
Like most products, leather upholstery is available at many price points: however, the variation in price is a reflection of the quality of the product. Corners can be cut in construction such as no-sag springs instead of eight-way hand-tied springs, yet these construction differences do not significantly contribute to the price variations. The price variations lie more in the price of the leather itself than in the construction of the upholstered piece.
The most important factor in determining quality leather upholstery is determining the quality of the leather itself. You will often find that retailers advertise "All Leather" upholstery: however, this is a misleading statement. Leather is a generic term that refers to a tanned animal skin. The actual animal skin can be cow, buffalo, pig, etc., so it is not sufficient to assume all leathers are equal. Likewise, there are many methods of tanning and finishing available, so leathers can be remarkably different even if they are from the same animal species.
You will find that there is a tremendous difference in the appearance and texture of leathers from different animals. Cowhide is preferable for upholstery leather because it has the most desirable appearance and texture or "hand", which is a term often used to describe the feel of the leather. The grain of cowhide tends to be smooth, lending itself to a soft hand. Other animal hides are stiffer and coarser grained and, therefore, are not a desirable upholstery material. Often, inferior leather upholstery will be made of stiffer leathers such as a pig or water buffalo.
Now that you understand differences in leather obtained from different animals, the rest of this will talk about differences in leather obtained from cows. The term cowhide refers to leather made from cow skins; however, there are variations in the quality of cowhides as well.