Perhaps you have never heard the word, shagreen. If not, you may well ask, "what does shagreen mean"?
The word, shagreen, is based on the Mid-Eastern word, Shagri, describing a rough hide. The art of shagreen was first used in Turkey during the 12th centry. At that time, the coarse, durable skins of sharks were inlaid on shields and used in battle. Shagreen is usually made from the skins of small sharks and ray fish. The texture is what makes this interesting and different from other materials.
The skill of working this material was brought to France during the reign of Louis XIV. Hides were used for inlay work on snuff and pillboxes, sword hilts, and scientific instruments. Tanned, dyed, filed and treated, shagreen became a very sophisticated material to work with. Its unusual texture and extreme durability caught the eye of the French aristocracy who turned the new material into a popular fashion. Since the 16th century, few craftsmen used shagreen as the rarity and the difficulty of processing the skins made it a luxury item.
It was not until the 1880's and 1890's that shagreen began to flourish again. It's real renaissance started in the 1920's when it caught the eye of the Prince of Wales. The Prince, later the Duke of Windsor, commissioned tables, shooting sticks, humidors, cigarette cases and even toe-caps for his shoes in the rare material and a new craze started.
Today, faux shagreen is used more often than the real thing, which is a good thing for the sharks and rays.
Used on small accessory items as well as larger furniture pieces, an example is seen here of a dyed green, shagreen-pattern embossed leather covering the cylindrical occasional table. This table is unique and perfect for a small space beside your favorite wicker chair in the sunroom.
A completely different application for faux shagreen is the inlay on this console table top. The contemporary table is rosewood with a natural finish and the shagreen contrasts dramatically with the dark wood.
Visit your local dealer of fine home furnishings and look for touches of shagreen that add texture and color variation when blended with finished woods and metals.
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