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The spine of the stingray in shagreen is used to cover or wrap a Gosling chest - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
The spine of the stingray in shagreen is used to cover or wrap a Gosling chest

The spine of the stingray in shagreen is used to cover or wrap a Gosling chest of drawers with faux bone handles and turned sycamore feet, designed in the 1940s style.
The textured, almost iridescent surface - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
The textured, almost iridescent surface

A dressing table with inlaid shagreen creates a tactile texture and iridescent surface.
Bedroom designed by Bill Bennette - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
Bedroom designed by Bill Bennette

Bill Bennette designed this bedroom in a Regency townhouse designed by the Architect John Nash. The Gosling furniture takes inspiration from the quoining of the front terrace. The grey shagreen was chosen to work in harmony with the silk furnishings.
Shagreen inlaid into a dressing table/writing desk - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
Shagreen inlaid into a dressing table/writing desk

Shagreen inlaid into the surface of a 1940s André Arbus-inspired dressing table/writing desk in cream lacquer, with brass detailing and shagreen-inlaid top supported by eight turned and tapered legs with brass feet. The eye of the stingray spine in the shaved and dyed shagreen can be clearly seen. Interior design by Alidad.
A Gentleman's Pedestal Desk - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
A Gentleman's Pedestal Desk

The spine of the stingray is inlaid into the top of this rosewood gentlemen’s desk. The front and rear elevation have four rectangular inlaid shagreen panels surrounded by a delicate beading of sterling silver.
Shagreen Bar - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
Shagreen Bar

A modern, shagreen bar in facetted chocolate brown lacquer with a radial shagreen worktop. The neon wall sculpture is by Tracey Emin.
A pair of bedside tables - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
A pair of bedside tables

A pair of bedside tables in myrtle burr with unshaved shagreen in a caramel colour. The eye of the shagreen is more rounded and textured as it is unsanded.
A cherry desk - Luxury Bespoke Furniture by Gosling
A cherry desk

A cherry desk with the top book matched in white shaved shagreen.
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The story of shagreen (Fr. galuchat) is an eventful one. This tactile, granular hide, fashioned from the skins of sharks and stingrays, has been prized by craftsmen for its beauty and durability from ancient times, and has alternately enjoyed huge popularity in the world of design, or fallen into disuse and disappeared for centuries.

Shagreen hides in a Gosling workshop. Shagreen hides can be dyed in the same manner as leather to suit the client’s requirements.

Shagreen is extremely durable, its rough surface made up of small, round, closely set ‘beads’ which vary in size depending on the size and age of the animal. The treatment of these beads divides shagreen into the two distinct categories of unshaved and shaved shagreen. Unshaved shagreen hides have, as the name suggests, not been sanded down at all so the characteristic, round beads are full and rough to the touch. Their waxen surface means that any dye used to treat the skin does not soak into the hide, but rather sits on top, giving it a strikingly glossy appearance. Shaved shagreen hides, on the other hand, are much smoother to the touch, with the beads sanded down quite extensively. This allows the dye to permeate all the way through the hides resulting in a more subtle, matt colour. The granulated surface is often created artificially, by stamping, on the untanned skins of horses and mules to imitate shagreen.

Early Japanese and Mayan civilisations believed that the stingray gave power and strength to those who handled it, and its spine was considered to bring protection, luck and prosperity. When using shagreen in furniture the spine is often a design feature and can almost be book-matched, as with timber. The spine, being slightly raised, gives the piece character, extra tactility and rhythm — as well as identifying it as authentic ray skin — inlaid into a panel of a gentleman’s pedestal desk constructed in American Black Walnut and Santos Rosewood with brushed nickel stringing and beading.

Mark of John Paul Cooper, Toilet service, London, 1925*29. Cooper described shagreen as ‘a material possessing some of the qualities of both mother of pearl and leather. Its little nodules of concentric rings give one, when the skin is particularly translucent, the feeling of looking deep down into a pool of seagreen water’.

Armour and a number of ornamental items inlaid with shagreen have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. There is also evidence of shagreen being used during the Han dynasty (206 BCE –220 CE) in China, as well as in eighth-century Japan where it was used as an inlay on the sheath handles of Samurai swords and daggers, its rough surface improving the warrior’s grip on the battlefield.

By the seventeenth century shagreen was being used as an inlay in furniture and for small articles such as cases, and in book-binding and pocket books. However its great revival came in the mid-eighteenth century thanks to Jean- Claude Galluchat, a master leatherworker in the court of Louis XV of France. It quickly became fashionable amongst the French aristocracy and by the 1750s its use had spread through Europe. From this time on it became usual to see shagreen in pieces dyed pale green, giving a subtle, natural and luxurious finish. In practice shagreen can be dyed any number of colours, especially in today’s workshops.

André Groult, Anthropomorphic chiffonier in mahogany wrapped in shagreen, ivory and silvered handles, c. 1925, France.

At the very end of the nineteenth century the English artisan John Paul Cooper (1869– 1933) took the art of shagreen to new heights. Often staining, polishing and mounting it in silver, he used it mainly to decorate boxes but also a number of vases, candlesticks, picture and mirror-frames.

Thereafter, shagreen fell out of favour almost completely until the 1920s when it caught the public’s eye once more, reaching its peak of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. Shagreen was soon being used by eminent Art Deco designers Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Jean- Michel Frank, Clement Rousseau, André Groult and André Arbus as elements of marquetry, as well as wrappings over the curved edges of tables and cabinets, a technique for which shagreen, with its softness and malleability, is particularly suited.