What is the difference between "Alligator" and "Crocodile" leather? There is a great deal of confusion on this issue as the price and quality of alligator/crocodile items can vary widely. This issue is of Given the crackdown on the importation of endangered species into the USA, the exact species of animal utilized is of increased significance if you are importing an item from outside of the USA; Once an alligator/crocodile skin has been processed into a finished wallet or belt, it can be difficult determine to determine. However, this issue can be significant While they are similar in many ways, there are significant differences based upon the species of animal (most cannot be legally imp0rted into the USA), the tanning processes utilized, and the body section of the donor animal used. The value and quality of the leather can vary widely.NOTE: If this guide is helpful to you, please click the yes in the blue block at the bottom of the page
In general, American Alligator skin is much nicer, with more symmetrical scale patterns, with thicker and softer skin, and with a smoother and more three-dimensional feel than the typical "crocodile" skin. American Alligator skins typically command the highest prices and are the most sought after raw material of the most prestigious manufacturers of luxury items. Though relatively rare, top quality skins from the "Nile Crocodile" and Australian "Saltwater Crocodile" are the equal, and in some ways better, than the best alligator.
While there is essentially only one species of alligator ( the "American Alligator" or " alligator mississippiensis"), there are a dozen species of crocodiles, in varied shapes and sizes found all over the world. By far the most common is the Brown Caiman from Central and South America. Most types of crocodile are either endangered or threatened and their commercial trade is restricted by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The US government recently initited a crackdown on the illegal importation of protected species, and routinely confiscates goods shipped from suppliers overseas.
Mislabeling of alligator items is often applied to items made from caiman. While caiman skins can be of good quality, caiman skin is relatively thinner and due to the less sophisticated tanning processes on finished products from South America, it is often dryer, stiffer and less durable than even the lesser quality alligator skins. For a buyer, it is unfortunate that this dryness cannot be seen in photos. Caiman can often be identified by small pits in their scales, which is far more common in caiman relative to other crocodiles, and is non-existent in genuine alligator.
What about the shape, size and pattern of the scales?
In addition to the species of alligator/crocodile, the quality of the skin varies from animal to animal and from what part of the body the skin is sourced. For smooth-skinned items, the premium sections include the central belly and throat areas where the scales are the largest, the most symmetrical around the center-line of the belly: these scales are somewhat rectangular in shape. The sides can also be very good quality; skin from the sides has scales that are more rounded in shape and the skin is a bit thinner.The least desirable section is the tail (which can represent 50% of the animal's length); the tail skin is stiffer, has more widely spaced scales, and is more heavily scared (scarring is normal and validates that the skin is genuine; a little scarring is interesting). Portions of the tail are suitable for internal or hidden sections of a wallet or purse, or for belts.
The size of the donor animal is also important. This can offer a clue to distinguish alligator from caiman, since caiman skins usually come from smaller animals (3 to 5 feet in length; compared to 6 to 12 feet for the typical alligator or Nile Croc). With a smaller donor animal the pattern and size of the scales transitions rapidly over the small area of the wallet or purse, such that the shape of the crocodile's body/head/tail is clearly apparent; this can be a good thing depending on the application.
What about the "CLASSIC" (high-gloss) versus the "SAFARI" (semi-gloss and more natural) finish?
Alligator and crocodile skins are available in a variety of colors and in two primary types of finishes, the CLASSIC high-gloss, and the SAFARI gloss or semi-gloss. Your choice of finish should depend upon the application and the type of accessory.
The CLASSIC finish is the more processed, smooth shiny patent leather look that was historically associated with the finest quality exotic leather luxury items. To achieve this high gloss, a natural protein (typically albumen or raw egg-whites) is polished into the skins under high-pressure. Using a hard smooth object under the force of a high pressure glazing jack, the skin is compressed and polished to a high-gloss shine. The resulting leather is a smooth, thin high-gloss leather with tightly spaced scales (the tighter the scale pattern, the higher the pressure utilized). The downside is that the skin becomes relatively stiff, and much less durable. This finish has long been favored by European manufacturers, because it actually expands the useable area of the skin and hides otherwise visible natural imperfections. While this finish initially looks great and appears to be durable because of its hard surface, it is difficult to bend without marring with small wrinkles, and depending upon the application, it can be susceptible to damage from abrasion in normal use. The CLASSIC finish is well suited for flat surfaced luxury items that are protected from abrasion and do not require much dynamic movement; examples are a man's dress/suit belt, a breast-pocket wallet, a lady's evening bag or clutch, and other items that are carried within a purse or briefcase, such as a business card holder or writing journal.
The SAFARI finish is increasingly more popular due to its understated, more natural semi-gloss look, and its exceptional durability. The SAFARI finish is the result of low-speed, low-pressure buffing using a combination of natural waxes and oils. Because the SAFARI finish has not been subjected to excessive pressure, the leather remains soft and supple and the surface retains the natural scale pattern and the minor imperfections characteristic of a genuine alligator or crocodile skin. The SAFARI finish can be flexed repeatedly with little or no signs of wear; it is also extremely resilient to abrasion. Since the color and surface finish penetrate deeper into the leather, and the surface is naturally more three-dimensional, scratches to the SAFARI finish are much less apparent. Rather than looking worse for wear with daily use, the patina of the SAFARI finish actually gets richer and deeper over time. In addition to the practical wear advantages, there is a growing preference for this more natural look, which is difficult to imitate.
Some items cannot be easily categorized into one or the other (classic vs. safari) category. For example, to achieve some of the best qualities of both finishes, most of the "classic" items that we offer can be best described as 2/3 classic & 1/3 safari. This combination offers a relatively high gloss finish, with durability approaching that of the safari finish.
What is "HORNBACK" ?
Hornback refers to the bone-hard, horn-like scales found along the back of the alligator or crocodile. Hornback items have an interesting and unique texture, as compared to "smooth" or "belly" skin.
Alligators are naturally colored to be camouflaged in their green and brown surroundings, so there skins are naturally a dull combination of Gray-Brown-Green. Thru the tanning and dyeing process, the skins can be dyed to almost any color. While black and browns are the most common colors, beautiful gray/silver, reds, oranges, and blue are also available. Consistency and depth of color is important, and is easier to achieve with the darker or more vivid the color; lighter colors can be inconsistent and discolor easily over time.