If you’re the proud owner of a crocodile or alligator wallet, you’d want to hope you got what you pay for. The pinnacle of luxury, prestige and instantly recognizable pattern of crocodile and alligator skins are highly sought after but also carry a higher price tag than other leathers. Both have very similar properties that produce exceptional quality leather goods and are typically referred to as “The Classics” or “Classic Leathers”.
The ugly duckling of the Crocodilian family is the Caiman, these produce an inferior, low quality leather that will not last as long and is much cheaper. Sadly (and extremely aggravating to us), some vendors take advantage of this price difference, claiming to sell as a real crocodile or alligator skin wallet when it is in fact cheaper caiman skin of lesser quality. As far as we’re concerned, these people should be left on a croc infested island to be educated on which is which. In this post, we’ll go over some of the interesting differences between crocs and gators, but more importantly, how to spot and avoid the ugly Caiman cousin.
Let’s start with crocs & gators then move on to caiman.
Sensory Pore (Exclusive to The Croc)
Probably the most obvious difference between crocodiles and alligators is the integumentary sense organ or ISO. The ISO is a small hair near the edge of each scale or tile of the crocodile that detects changes in current, water pressure and aids in navigating their environment (think whiskers on a cat). Neither the alligator or the caiman have this extra sensory advantage all over their body.
During tanning, the hair follicle falls out which leaves a pore that is often visible on closer inspection.
Both alligators and crocodiles have umbilical scars despite many websites claiming otherwise. These scars are very distinctively different though with the alligator having an elaborate, elongated star shaped webbing. This easily sets it apart from the umbilical scar of the croc which is more like a central line with small branches off of it and much less prominent.
Alligator umbilical scar
Crocodile umbilical scar
Belly Scale Pattern
The tile or scale pattern on the belly skin of a crocodile or alligator wallet will differ when looking at a full skin. Crocodiles tile pattern tends to have greater symmetry with both halves of the belly skin being similar and evenly spaced. Alligator can often be unevenly spaced with asymmetrical pattern across both halves. We happen to prefer the even spacing of crocodile, but neither should be considered superior to the other in this regard.
Crocs tile symmetry
Gators tile asymmetry
An easy marker if you happen to have what we affectionately call a “croc head wallet” is the configuration of the protective bumps at the back of the neck. Each of these 3 happy snappers have different sets of bumps as seen below. Crocodiles have 2 rows made up of 4-2 bumps, alligators have 3 rows in a 2-2-2 configuration and caimain 4-4-2.
Scale Pattern – Flank
Scales along the flank of crocodiles and alligators are generally uniform in size, are neatly and tightly packed along side each other with even spacing. Scales on the flanks of caiman can be unevenly sized and widely spaced apart from each other.
Gator & Croc – tightly spaced
Caiman – widely spaced
Flexibility Pliability Durability
Caiman have bony ossification (calcium deposits) under the skin. These bony, spidery plates drastically decrease the ability of the leather to properly fold. This lack of pliability results in splitting, cracking along the crease when folded and greatly reduces durability. This should not be confused with the bony plates along the back of all crocodilians called scutes. Often called hornback or backstrap, this section can make for some awesome crocodile and alligator wallets when done properly. In caiman however, this ossification exists under the skin of the belly section also. Perhaps worse still is the color uptake during tanning. In caiman, calcium spiders through the skin in a web-like pattern which prevents the skin from being colored properly during tanning, this results in an uneven, blotchy coloration where the dye is unable to penetrate.
Ossification under skin
Caiman skin cracking at the seam when folded
Calcium deposits preventing proper color uptake
Why It Matters
Competitors that sell cheap and nasty caiman skin while claiming in big bold letters that it’s a real alligator skin wallet or crocodile wallet, are intentionally lying to you! These 2 cringe-worthy caiman wallets are being sold as genuine crocodile wallets by other vendors… they are far from it.
Note the head bumps which identify it as caiman and the crease where the wallet folds. This will crack and fail after minimal use.
Note the calcium deposits under the skin resulting in uneven color uptake during tanning.
If you suspect you’ve been sold a caiman knock-off or you’re unsure about the supposedly genuine alligator wallet you’re about to buy… contact us and we’ll see if its the real deal.
Here’s a shameless plug for some of our gator and croc wallets.