American alligator leather is pretty much the gold standard in exotic leathers. It is supple, tough, stylish, and is versatile enough to be fashioned into a wide variety of products - ranging from a watch strap to an alligator leather overcoat, with luggage and upholstery in between.
Alligators are found naturally ONLY in the USA and China - only the American alligator adapts itself well to commercial usage. This limited availability lends alligator leather with a certain exclusiveness and value. Add to it the mystique of deriving the hide from an inherently wild and dangerous animal - the image of genuine alligator leather is hard to beat.
Here are 7 quick reckoners that will help you to become an alligator leather connoisseur, helping you to buy genuine products and impress friend with your knowledge -
1) Brown, tan and black are the most popular colors - but modern dyeing and processing techniques can yield practically any color in alligator leather.
2) Depending on the way skin is cut, alligator leather is prepared in two varieties - belly cut (where the belly hide is kept intact) and hornback cut (where the raised, prominent scales on the back are preserved - the cut is made on the belly part).
3) Belly cut alligator leather is derived from mostly younger, farm-raised animals, whereas the hornback cut alligator leather is derived from older animals captured from their original wild habitat.
4) The trade in American alligator is very highly and efficiently regulated - each and every animal is tagged to establish its source. This way, when you buy an alligator leather product from a reputable source, you can be sure of its American origin, ethical sourcing and authenticity.
5) Alligator leather is available in five different finishes - classic, Bombè, matte, nubuck and garment. Classic, Bombe, and garment finishes are generally found on belly cut leather, whereas matte and nubuck finishes are usually applied on hornback cuts.
6) The unique tiled pattern of the alligator leather is instantly recognizable. The tiles in genuine leather have natural abrasions - these scars do not reduce the beauty of the leather one bit - in fact, they only enhance the looks and style of the alligator leather. Also, the tiles are arranged in uneven patterns that are individual to each hide, and are never repeated.
7) While crocodile and alligators are closely related and belong to the same order in the animal kingdom, they are actually different animals. Alligator leather is almost exclusively derived from American alligators, while crocodiles are found in different continents - North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Leather experts rate alligator leather at a higher premium than crocodile leather. (Read here to learn the difference between alligator leather and crocodile leather).