Many products today are made from alligator or crocodile leather, from purses and shoes to custom leather dog collars. When trying to determine whether alligator or crocodile leather is more superior leather or more luxurious, there are many factors to consider before making a final determination.
Generally, alligator leather is viewed as the nicer and more luxurious leather, with more symmetrical scale patterns and a softer hide. Alligator has a smoother and more "three-dimensional" feel than crocodile skin, and alligator hides typically command the highest prices. It is one of the most highly thought raw materials by the manufacturers of luxury items.
Although extremely rare, a very few number of crocodile skins can compare with the quality of alligator hide. These would include "Nile crocodile" and Australian saltwater crocodile. When processed and tanned correctly, these very rare and expensive crocodile skins can meet or exceed the luxuriant nature of alligator skin.
Species of Reptiles
There really is only one species of alligator, known as the American Alligator. In contrast, there are over a dozen species of crocodiles from all over the world. The most common is the Brown Caiman, which is found in Central and South America. Generally, caiman skin is drier and stiffer than alligator skin, and significantly less durable. Unfortunately, many items made from caiman skins are deceptively labeled as alligator products.
Most species of crocodile are endangered and therefore illegal to hunt and harvest for commercial use, or at the very least their use is restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
When examined closely, crocodile or caiman skin will have small pits in the scales. These pits do not exist at all in genuine alligator products.
A Comparison of the Leathers
At first glance, it can be very difficult to tell crocodile from alligator leather. They are similar in a number of ways, and both will provide many years of useful service. However, the value and quality of the leather can vary greatly depending upon the tanning process used and the body section of the donor animal from which the leather is taken. The most important considerations tend to be softness, scale pattern, and finish.
For the most part, alligator skin is of a far greater quality, with more symmetrical scale patterns, softer skin, and a smoother feel than crocodile skin.
Most mislabeling occurs with the Brown Caiman, whose skins tend to be thinner, dryer, 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 taken from the sides of an animal will have scale patterns that are more rounded in shape, and the hide can still be of a high quality. The least desirable part of the animal is the tail, which composes approximately 50% of the animal's length. Skin from this area is stiffer with scales more widely spaced, and it is usually heavily scarred.
The size of a skin can help distinguish genuine alligator from a caiman or croc. Alligator skins are generally six to 12 feet long, while caiman and most croc skins are only three to five feet long. With smaller donor animals, the transition of scale patterns is evident even in small items such as a wallet or purse.
Scale patterns tend to correlate to the size of the animal. Therefore, hide from a full grown alligator may have scales that are over one inch square and tend to be more symmetrical.
Alligators Retain Superiority
In general, alligator skins are going to be softer, more supple, more durable, and provide a more uniform scale pattern than crocodile or caiman skins. Additionally, alligator is not an endangered or threatened species, so products manufactured from genuine American alligator are maintaining an environmentally friendly status as well.