"Alligators are like women," an old, wise man once said, "the best ones are soft, supple and nonbelligerent." If you take time to shop carefully, you can find the best bag to serve you a lifetime. Remember that its price would be based on several factors, such as its condition, as well as the quality of its skins, specifically their Grade, Cut, Pattern, and Finish.
Alligator skins selected for manufacturing are graded by 5 categories and judged by the shape of the skin, presence of scars, cuts, scratches or holes, and "buttons" (osteoderms). The fewer the flaws, the higher the grade is. Look for the bags with a fine, even surface texture that does not have any scars or "buttons" (thicker sports).
The underbelly skin is considered to be the primary leather for making bags. It consists of two cuts: a central-pattern cut and an outside-of-pattern cut. A neat, central-pattern cut is divided into 3 main areas: belly, head and tail. A belly cut is the most desirable because of its superb symmetry. It usually features an umbilical scar, which is often displayed prominently on the front of the handbag. Flexible head cuts composed of smaller scales are used for gussets. Tail cuts with tile-scales arranged horizontally are for the bottoms. The outside-the-pattern cuts (head and tail) are less valuable because of their random scale pattern.
Symmetrical central patterns indicate the highest quality. Off-centered patterns have lesser value. Random patterns are least desirable. A bag made of perfectly matched, symmetrical patterns on both sides represents the best quality.
For decades, tanners around the world have struggled to master the perfect finish that ads that final magic touch to the splendor of exotic skins. Depending on the decade and the country of origin, different technologies and methods have been used to create three basic types of finishes: glaze, matte and bombe.
Glazed Finish (or classic finish) can vary in intensity and brilliance, depending on the maker and tannery: Lucille de Paris and Coblentz (medium-shine glaze); Bellestone (high-intensity glaze); French brands (low-intensity glaze).
Matte Finish is a subtle treatment with a soft glow used primarily by French (Hermes) and Italian (Gucci) masters -- one of the most expensive finishes contrary to the popular belief that the glossier the bag, the better.
Bombe Finish is a well-fixed, brilliant gloss achieved by applying heat to flat, polished skins and by slightly raising the center of each scale to achieve an effect of high definition (Rosenfeld handbags).
Sart from running your finger over the skin surface to examine its treatment and finish. The best ones have a sculptured effect achieved by a special method of tanning (Bombe), when each scale is domed separately by hand. If the surface is flat, a less expensive tanning method is applied. The finer the skin is, the more it yields when you press your thumb against it.
Examine the scales and their pattern. They can tell the story about where the reptile lived, how it lived and whether the skin quality is good enough. While scrutinizing the grain, ask yourself the questions:
Does the front match the back in pattern and symmetry? In the finest products, both sides have similar patterns.
What is the size of the scales? The smaller the scales, the finer the quality. Most valuable are the underbelly cuts of baby American Alligator with the tiniest scales. Note that sometimes cheaper lizard with small scales could be misrepresented as expensive "baby alligator or baby crocodile."
Can you see the center line that divides the pattern into two parts mirroring each other? If yes, you made the right choice.