Exotic Skin Quality

If you shop carefully, your vintage find will last a lifetime. Remember that the price you pay for a collectible vintage exotic is based not only on its condition, but also on the skin quality: Grade, Cut, Pattern, and Finish. 

Victoria Stowe
Victoria Stowe


Alligator skins selected for manufacturing were graded by 5 categories and judged by the shape of the skin, presence of scars, cuts, scratches or holes, and osteoderms. The fewer the flaws, the higher the grade. 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 the premier choice 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 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 bottoms. 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 the effect of high definition (Rosenfeld handbags).