Today, many products are made from alligator or crocodile skin, from bags and shoes to personalized leather dog collars. When trying to determine whether alligator or crocodile leather is a more superior or more luxurious leather, there are many factors to consider before making a final decision.
In general, alligator leather is considered the nicest and most luxurious leather, with more symmetrical scale patterns and smoother skin. Alligator has a softer, more “three-dimensional” feel than alligator skin, and alligator skins typically command the highest prices. It is one of the raw materials most sought after by manufacturers of luxury goods.
Although extremely rare, very few crocodile skins can compare to the quality of alligator skin. These would include the “Nile crocodile” and the Australian saltwater crocodile. When properly processed and tanned, these very rare and expensive crocodile skins can match or exceed the lush nature of alligator skin.
There is really only one species of alligator, known as the American alligator. On the contrary, there are more than a dozen species of crocodiles from all over the world. The most common is the brown alligator, which is found in Central and South America. In general, alligator skin is drier and stiffer than alligator skin, and significantly less durable. Unfortunately, many items made from alligator skins are misleadingly labeled as alligator products.
Most crocodile species are endangered and therefore illegal to hunt and collect for commercial use, or at least their use is restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
When examined closely, crocodile or alligator skin will have small pits in the scales. These holes do not exist at all in genuine alligator products.
A comparison of the leathers
At first glance, it can be very difficult to distinguish crocodile from alligator leather. They are similar in many ways, and both will provide many years of useful service. However, the value and quality of leather can vary greatly depending on the tanning process used and the section of the donor animal’s body from which the leather is taken. The most important considerations tend to be smoothness, scale pattern, and finish.
For the most part, alligator skin is of a much higher quality, with more symmetrical scale patterns, smoother skin, and a smoother feel than alligator skin.
Most mislabeling occurs with brown alligators, whose hides tend to be thinner, drier, stiffer, and less durable due to less sophisticated tanning processes. For most products, the skin from the belly and throat areas is used because it provides the most symmetrical scale patterns, which are rectangular in shape. Skin removed from the sides of an animal will have scale patterns that are more rounded in shape, and the skin can still be of high quality. The least desirable part of the animal is the tail, which comprises about 50% of the animal’s length. The skin in this area is stiffer, with more widely spaced scales, and is usually heavily scarred.
The size of the skin can help distinguish a genuine alligator from an alligator or crocodile. Alligator skins are generally six to 12 feet long, while alligator skins and most crocodiles are only three to five feet long. With smaller donor animals, the transition of scale patterns is evident even on small items like a purse or bag.
Scale patterns tend to correlate with the size of the animal. Therefore, the skin of an adult alligator can have scales larger than one square inch and tend to be more symmetrical.
Alligators retain superiority
In general, alligator skins will be softer, more flexible, more durable, and provide a more uniform scale pattern than crocodile or alligator skins. Additionally, the alligator is not a threatened or endangered species, so products made from genuine American alligators also maintain an ecological status.