This is a question I have been asked several times so I will address it in this post.
To be honest, this is like asking ‘should I break up with my boyfriend?’ It is a very personal decision and one that you have to make based on what is best for YOU. Only you will know what is the best choice for you.
I can however give you my tuppence worth so here it is:
They are two very different binders, with two very different price points.
A Van der Spek A5 runs at about €180 whereas the Gillio A5 Mia Cara is now as much as €620 so the price is definitely a factor – you could get 3.3 Van der Spek customised binders for the price of one Mia Cara. [I am using the Gillio Mia Cara as an example because I own one]. The Mia Cara does have a lot more leather in it as it consists of an inside and outside binder so in this respect some of the high price is due to materials.
On the other hand, you can almost fully customise your Van der Spek which makes it extremely good value for money. You have constant contact with the company and you can choose your ring colour and size, your leathers and to, some extent, your layout. The excellent customer service and generous returns policy really makes Van der Spek an attractive option. The closest Van der Spek to the Mia Cara is the Touch Me binder, which comes in brown and black and cannot be customised apart from ring size (though it is designed for 25mm rings rather than the 35mm you are able to order and put in your binder)
Both have replaceable rings in two colors but only Van der Spek has the option of 35mm rings in their customisable binders. For me, the Mia Cara 25mm rings are way too small. Both VDS and Gillio use the Eurotime refills but on the downside the Gillio shipping cost for refills is very expensive.
Leather-wise I don’t think you can compare the two I have, because the leather is totally different. I have an A5 Cognac Van der Spek in Italian full-grain leather. After 20 years it is in brilliant shape and after heavy use does not show a spot or a mark. It is light and smooth. The Epoca Gold Mia Cara, however is made of very heavy, grained leather which marks very easily (very like Mulberry Oak Darwin leather) but looks lovely as it ages and develops a patina and stains and marks. I adore it but it is not for you if you are paranoid about marking your binder. You can rub out minor scuffs and scratches but blotches and stains will be there forever.
If I had to go back I would still buy both of them. The downside of the Mia is the price (I would definitely not pay the new price for the A5), the bulk and the weight. Though the leather and the workmanship is top notch. There are no downsides to the Van der Spek and the company gets an extra pat on the back for their excellent customer service.
If I could only buy one, I would buy the Van der Spek. Price aside, the main reason being that I need a binder that is light AND big AND portable AND hardy. And Van der Spek ticks all the boxes on this one.
Tellingly, I have four Gillio binders and only one VDS. Because my one VDS is just perfect. I love it so much I have no desire for another one. I can actually look at everyones’ gorgeous custom ones in the VDS group and admire them and love them but not want one. Because my one is perfect for me and I have been using it since the day I got it, which must be about three months ago now. A record length of time in one binder I think! Don’t get me wrong, I love my Gillios and will never sell my Mia Caras but the Mia Cara is a bulky binder and I need to carry mine around with me wherever I go so the VDS fits the bill better.
So to conclude, it is a very difficult decision. Everyone has different needs and preferences. And of course different budgets. You need to ask what suits your budget, your lifestyle and your needs. Being able to custom design the colours and leathers and pocket layout is a fantastic opportunity though it has to be said.
Yes, it definitely depends on personal preferences. Although for me the price tag is the other way around. VDS prices have increased since this article was written in 2014. It is 2017 now and a few weeks ago I had estimated the cost of a Custom VDS in the same configuration as a medium (personal) Compagna model and everything+plus tax equals approximately double the price of a Gillio. I shudder to think what a Mia Cara twin would amount to from VDS. Of course you are getting a handmade custom planner from VDS, but Gillio quality is on par with VDS, so you decide what’s right for you and what you are prepared to pay for something. I was contemplating VDS for the longest time, but the Compagna design is 100% perfect for me, and I’m not prepared to pay double for the same thing. Also you could opt for a pre-produced Touch Me planner from VDS, but the colours are limited and buffalo leather is a matter of taste.
P.S. Also the closest equivalent to epoca leather is “JANET” leather. Yes, named after this very same blogger. And because the leather is so awesome it’s +10% more pricey.
Does your Van Der Spek have a stiffener in it? Also do you know if the cognac color leather is still available?
I am so excited to receive my new Van der Spek. I looked and looked at Gillio, Glenroyal, Gucci… But none of them really had the right chemistry. I am extremely picky about my organizers! I have yet to see my VdS but it is essentially the same as your cognac model, but executed in red glossy leather. I plan to use it as a work planner and have been pulling together all the various accessories needed to convert to the A5 size after several years of exclusive use of the personal size. My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask at the time of order about a second pen loop in the binder. I have been made aware that this can be done for a small upcharge and I think for my needs it would have been the right way to go. But I got everything else I wanted; big rings (gold!), red leather, my initials embossed into the cover (more gold!). I am thrilled and cannot wait to see this creation!
Thank you for a very good review. I have not fallen in love with either of the Mia Cara’s I have owned. The medium rust was a very pebbly leather and it just didn’t fit the bill for what I needed to use it for. The A5 was just plain too large and heavy and bulky. Loved the gold epoca leather but that was about it. I have yet to see a VdS. I have 2 on order. I love my medium Compagna in every way.
I was attracted to the Mia because of its size but irritated by the very same thing that attracted me in the first place! I have a pocket Mia (which is almost the size of a personal) and the A5. Gorgeous fantastic binders but not if you have to carry them around a lot.
Janet, do you buy chance know the weight on the Mia Cara? I received my A5 Touch Me organizer from Van Der Spek and I was surprised that it didn’t weigh as much as I thought it would despite the thick, luscious leather.
My Mia Cara (full but not overfull) weighs 1.9kg/4.1lb