When I first started the hobby of leather work, one thing that drew me in was exotic skins. While initially intimidating, I received an opportunity to work with crocodile skin and fell in love with the craft all over again.
Crocodile leather is the hide of a crocodile that has been tanned for leatherwork. Its unique pattern, soft texture, great durability, and limited production make it a highly sought-after luxury. As a result, these hides cost between $250-$1500, depending on their belly size and grade.
The high cost of working with crocodile leather can put some crafters off. I want to inspire confidence by going over these exotic leather hides in detail.
History of Crocodile Leather
Crocodile leather has been depicted as being used before the 1800s. However, reptile skins used at this time were stiff, flaky, and as a result, limited in their use. It was not until the 1850s that the tanning process improved, addressing the issues with crocodile hides. This change led to a significant increase in hunting crocodiles and reptiles alike.
These animals soon became endangered, requiring change. Then, in the 1960s, crocodile farms began harvesting wild eggs and breeding the creatures for their skin. To this day, most crocodile hides come from these farms, keeping the population healthy.
Characteristics of Crocodile Leather
Crocodile leather has large scales along the hide, creating ridges that are iconic to this leather. Unlike alligators, crocodile leather tends to be softer with a smoother texture.
Flexibility is one of the key differences between alligator and crocodile leather. It is a versatile leather, flexible enough to be used on shoes. Crocodile leather can be used for larger goods such as bags if combined with a supporting layer.
While not as soft as many other types of leather, crocodile leather is still the softest reptile available. The combination of distinct scales and a soft hand is a perfect balance for luxury goods.
Crocodile leather can prove to be more difficult when hand sewing. The uneven height created by the scales provides a challenge when trying to keep the stitching line straight. However, if properly planned, these issues can be minimized.
The naturally thick skin and scales on crocodile hides make the leather relatively durable. However, the leather is susceptible to scratches, scuffs, and marks. The cost of the leather demands delicate care, regardless of its natural durability.
Ease of Maintenance
Properly caring for crocodile leather is not much different from other leathers. It can be dusted with a horsehair brush or soft cloth and hydrated with leather conditioners. As with any leather, testing the conditioner, you plan to use on a hidden part of the item is important to prevent any unwanted change.
Crocodile leather is one of the few types of leather that can be bought undyed. This means the color possibilities are endless. Bespoke leather workers will buy undyed hides and create beautiful patterns, showcasing the variety in this leather.
Despite what most may think, crocodile leather is not waterproof. Like many other types of leather, water can leave lasting marks and cause cracking within the leather.
Crocodile leather is a luxury hide with a price that reflects that. The cost of these hides depends on their grade and their size. Smaller or imperfect hides may be found for $250, while larger, higher-grade hides can be upwards of $1500.
Pros and Cons of Crocodile Leather
Pros of Crocodile Leather
The main appeal of crocodile skin is its distinct, beautiful pattern. Each pattern is unique, with no two skins ever being the same. Crocodile leather also offers a fair amount of durability and can be maintained easily.
Bespoke leather workers will buy undyed hides and create beautiful patterns, showcasing the variety in this leather.
Cons of Crocodile Leather
Crocodile leather is one of the most expensive leathers but does not offer many benefits. It is not waterproof and is only slightly more wear-resistant than other leathers. Lastly, when used in leather work, the hide may be difficult to use if not appropriately planned, as the scales provide an uneven surface.
The production of crocodiles can also raise some sustainability concerns. An article by John Thorbjarnarson from Conservation Biology Volume 13, written on past issues regarding hunting crocodiles, acknowledges the many farms we have in place now but points out that commercial farming does not provide conservation efforts for less lucrative species.
Production Statistics of Crocodile Leather
- Volume per Year
Only around 750,000 crocodile leather hides are produced a year. This is less than 1% of the total leather hides produced annually.
- Key country or countries where it is produced
Crocodile leather is typically produced in areas native to the crocodile, such as Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Thailand has the largest crocodile farms.
- Biggest exporting country
Thailand, India, and Vietnam are the largest exporters of crocodile hides. This comes from Asia’s abundance of large crocodile farms. Thailand’s farms alone have over one million crocodiles.
- Biggest importing country
India, Vietnam, and Italy are the largest importing countries of crocodile hides. The tanning process of crocodile leather can be environmentally dangerous, so most hides are produced in a limited amount of locations.
How Crocodile Leather is Made
The process of making crocodile leather can be harmful to the environment. This results in a small number of locations that produce crocodile leather. When a hide is harvested, it must be shipped to one of these locations. Salt and other preservatives are added to the hide to prevent skin deterioration.
When a tannery first receives these skins, they must be washed and cleaned, aiding in the skin’s rehydration. They are then treated with chemicals in large drums to begin the tanning process. The drums will soften the skin over time, while the added chemicals prepare the skin for dyeing.
In the International Journal of Development Research, Gemechu Chala, Tewodros Birhanu Aychiluhim, and Karthikeyan from the Department of Chemistry in Ethiopia found that crocodile leather reacts better to chromium chemicals than vegetable tanned methods.
Once taken from the drums, moisture is removed from the skins to provide an even surface for the dye to be soaked in. At this point, the leather will be placed back into a drum, this time with dye which will take hours to penetrate the leather in a uniform manner completely.
Cost of Crocodile Leather
- Per Centimeter – Crocodile costs are typically broken down by the belly width in centimeters, as this is their most usable area. Therefore, prices can range from $9–$40 per centimeter. If the belly width is 35cm, the price could range from $315–$1,400.
- Half Hide – While these hides are not usually sold in pieces, prices of ½ hide are still determined by its belly width. The total price of the hide would be calculated and then cut in half. Using the previous example, a $1,400 total hide would be $700 for half.
- Full Hide – Crocodile hides range from $250–$1500, depending on their grade and belly size.
Crocodile Leather Pricing
|Crocodile Leather Grade||Price Per cm||Average Total Cost (Average Belly Size 35cm)|
|4 (Large or multiple defects on many parts of the belly)||$9–$11||$315–$385|
|3 (Defects located in the center of the belly)||$11–$16||$385–$560|
|2 (Defects located on the outskirts of the belly)||$16–$25||$560–$875|
|1 (Flawless/No defects on the belly)||$25+||$875+|
Popular Uses for Crocodile Leather
- Sectioned belts
- Watch Straps
Tips for Working With Crocodile Leather
- Plan projects around scale orientation for a cohesive design.
- Avoid directly cutting through a scale when possible.
- Cut pieces from the backside of the leather to ensure straight edges.
- Lightly stretch the skin to better see the holes hidden between the scales.
This helpful video showcases the varieties of crocodile leather and how they can be utilized in leathercraft.
Examples of Items Made From Crocodile Leather
Crocodile leather can be fairly versatile as different crocodile species produce various leather. The luxury leather brand Hermès uses the porosus crocodile, which tends to be softer and larger than other species allowing for its leather to be used for bags.
American crocodiles, also known as Crocodylus acutus, may be smaller than the porosus, but have a larger midsection for scales. This makes it ideal for clothing as the larger midsection allows for creating larger square cuts.
Its unique pattern, soft texture, highly durable, and limited production make it highly sought after as a sign of luxury.
Working With Crocodile Leather Firsthand
To better understand and inform others about working with crocodile leather; I bought small pieces for a project. The leather I received was imperfect, with holes to work around. Finding the defects in the leather was tricky; the black leather and scales hid the imperfections well. Flipping the leather over and carefully stretching it made this much quicker.
Area selection was limited for me as I only had remnants and had to avoid holes. Though I did learn as the scales got smaller, the leather got thinner and softer. For my project, though, I chose to go with the larger belly parts. When attempting to mark the leather, I quickly found the topside was not going to work.
The scales would leave a scratch, but keeping a straight line across the uneven surface was difficult. The best method seemed to be tracing my pattern on the other side with a pen. This is also what I found while cutting the leather. My knife had no issues going through the scales, and when cutting from the back of the leather, I was able to make straight cuts.
A large issue I ran into while doing my project was creating a visible stitch line. This needed to be on the front of the leather, over the scales, and in a straight line. The only solution I could really find was to do this process as slowly as possible. Punching the leather was also slightly tricky, as the surface was uneven.
I found the best luck in large stitching chisels, as they allowed me to anchor in previous holes and kept the lines straight regardless of the depressions caused by the scales. I did attempt to bevel the edges of the leather once put together but again found no luck. So, I avoided it entirely. The leather I used was chrome tanned, meaning it could not be burnished and had to be painted.
I can admit that painting edges is not my specialty, but the varying thickness due to the scales meant precision was necessary. Ultimately, working with crocodile leather is more difficult than with other types. Though there are techniques to help mitigate many issues you may encounter, there are much easier leathers to work with. However, this leather can easily turn into your most beautiful project with patience.
Crocodile Leather Care and Maintenance
How to clean crocodile leather
Cleaning crocodile leather should be done with a soft cloth to prevent scratches. Water can be used in limited amounts, but should be placed on the cloth, not directly on the leather. A horsehair brush may also be used to clean between the leather scales.
How to condition crocodile leather
Like any leather, conditioning leather depends on the hide and the conditioner to be used. Place a small amount of conditioner on a soft cloth and rub it into the leather. It is important to check the directions of the conditioner and test it in small areas to ensure no damage will be caused.
How to store crocodile leather
Crocodile leather must be stored in a dry environment, away from sunlight, to prevent damage. The leather should be kept away from any object that could scratch the surface to keep it looking as flawless as possible.
Is crocodile leather real leather?
Yes, crocodile leather is real leather, although simulated crocodile skin is on the market.
Is crocodile leather good?
Yes, but like any leather, crocodile leather has some variance in grade. However, since these skins are not as common, crocodile leather tends to receive the utmost care in production.
Is crocodile leather expensive?
Yes, crocodile hides are expensive due to their limited production and their classification as luxury leather from their use in high-end products.
Is crocodile leather durable?
Somewhat. While the natural thickness and scales make for durable leather, it is not wear-resistant and can still be scuffed and marked like other leathers.
Crocodile is a beautiful exotic leather that can make any leather project stunning. It may require more attention to detail, but with the tips provided, anyone can make the most of it.
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