I recently shadowed Kai Kruger on a Shagreen (Galuchat) project at his leather studio. Featured here are images of the leather, a bit of process, the final product, and extra examples of this opulent, decorative practice.
Named after the inventor Jean-Claude Galluchat (1755-1774), Shagreen is a cartilaginous fish leather (shark or sting ray) that has long been used in corsetry and to decorate furniture and other personal objects (medicine boxes, chests, books, sword handles). The practice of covering objects with fish skin dates back to 8th century Japan and 16th century Europe. It adopted the name Shagreen in the 18th century (the word derives from the French chagrin, the roughness of the texture led to the meaning of anxiety, vexation, embarrassment or annoyance) and soon after the technique was forgotten. In the 1930s there was a resurgence in popularity and since the 1980s Shagreen has, once again, become fashionable (tables, shoes, bracelets, iphone cases).
Originally from Thailand and imported through Italy, the sting ray is covered with beads of silica. Shiny, granular and difficult to tan, these silica beads are particularly coarse running along the spine, resulting in what looks like a jewel at the centre of the leather. This material is quite mesmerizing to behold; exotic and prehistoric, a gem plucked from the depths of the ocean. I can't speak to the ethics of sting ray leather, but I am surprised this luxury item isn't protected like its tortoise friend (the commercial sale of tortoises is banned in North America and EU-wide due to endangerment).