What Is Shagreen?
Please note this post was updated on 6 May 2019 to include further detail and the latest information on shagreen)
Shagreen was originally made from the skin of stingrays and used for decoration of swords and dagger handles has it was not only aesthetically pleasing but also provided the important role of grip on the sword handle due to the rough texture of the stingray skin. Actual stingray skin is still used today; however, it is mainly used for small areas in decorative items like shagreen jewelry boxes and accessories and small areas of furniture like handles.
Instead, we use a method that replicates the qualities of real stingray skin, a process which we will explain in further detail later in this post.
Following the story of shagreen is taking a path through history, with the versatile material being used in the field of battle, the grandeur of royal palaces, and today’s modern world of interior design.
History of Shagreen
The roots of shagreen can be found in Asia, specifically Japan and China, from around 1,000 years ago. Often used in rawhide form, warriors used shagreen for the hilts of their swords and bows. It was used for its grip and water resistant qualities.
The first instance of shagreen being used to make furniture can again be found in Japan but this time, produced for the European market. It was Portuguese traders in the late 16th century who began the trend of importing lacquer goods which incorporated shagreen in the decoration. The Dutch followed suit, and before long, shagreen furniture was being produced in Europe.
Led by Dutch and English furniture makers from the 17th century onwards, shagreen increased in popularity across Europe. Items from chests to tables were being decorated with ray skins. The French were late to the party but eventually followed the trail set by the other European powers. Even the famous Napoleon III had one of his bedrooms entirely furnished with shagreen.
The rise of custom-made shagreen furniture led to the material being utilized in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco era. This was the heyday for real shagreen. Designers such as Jean-Michel Frank and Paul Iribe were using the material decorate cigarette boxes, lighters, lamps, and again, furniture.
The appeal of shagreen became truly global in the “roaring 20s.” High society couldn’t get enough of it, becoming firmly established in the world of interior design.
Real or Faux-Shagreen
As the 20th century wore on, awareness of the environment and changing customer tastes meant the market for real shagreen declined. As with many materials, people began to question the morality of unsustainably using ray skin.
As well as designers committing to using sustainable sources for ray skin, faux shagreen began to emerge as a viable alternative. Alongside the moral issue of using stingray skin, there’s also the high cost and limited supply. Other materials can be used to replicate a stingray’s skin, for this we use a polyester based resin to produce our shagreen furniture.
The process Arin International follow uses real stingray skin just once, as we pour the resin into a mold and leave to cure overnight. Once set, the resin adopts a leather texture, very much like the real skin. The mold can be used repeatedly.
Shagreen provides a unique finish, and furniture is on trend in today’s furniture market, and with this humane approach, there’s the added satisfaction in its sustainability. With twenty years of experience, the team at Arin International has continually refined the process to deliver high quality and affordable products.
Why Use Shagreen Furniture?
Whether it’s real or faux, shagreen has stood the test of time as a desirable material for furniture. The versatility is part of its appeal, in the sense that it can be used to decorate items of all shapes and sizes, but there are other benefits too:
Durability: Shagreen first emerged as a material to cover weapons for two reasons.First was for its grip. The second was down to its toughness. Natural rawhide shagreen from stingrays is said to be up to 25 times tougher than cow leather. At Arin International, we replicate this toughness with our shagreen products which means surfaces are more hard-wearing and last longer.
Decoration: The aesthetic appeal of shagreen has transcended eras and centuries. The great French designers of the early 20th century couldn’t get enough of the material as it came to dominate the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. Today, shagreen is at the forefront of modern interior design.
Versatility: As already mentioned above, the versatile nature of shagreen is significant factor in its enduring appeal. It enables makers like Arin International to deliver custom furniture at affordable rates.
The beauty of shagreen is more than skin-deep. The robust properties of stingray skin is evident in both real and faux shagreen products. In using this unique material, you would be investing for the future, as the finish will remain polished for decades, without the need for any special care.
What Colours Does Shagreen Furniture Come In?
You can provide us with any pantone color, and we can match this in the shagreen finish, we offer our own colors such as cream, grey and blue. You can see some examples in our other posts here: Shagreen Furniture and here: Shagreen Jewelry Boxes and Accessories