This is a mystery but everybody has heard of shagreen. It had its hour of glory. Very much sought after during the 18th century with the jewel cases (1), shagreen was already famous in the East Asia in the 17th century.
Jewel cases and objects of the18th century
Its history is a succession of bounces because the control technique of this skin of line or dogfish was many times lost then found again.
Today when shagreen is mentioned, we think less about the gainier of Louis XV - Jean-Claude Galluchat - who gave him his name than the subtle pieces of furniture that he
inspired decorators with in the 1920’s.
Japanese armour, Matsudaira family, towards 1700_ Private Collection
A bit of history
The first stage of shagreen takes us along to Asia. Japanese used sea resources and mastered the ancient technique of the work of ray skin: the “same”.
From the 8th century to the 18th century, shagreen is mentioned in Japan. We find ray skins on daily objects and armaments.
Ray skin is non-slippery and hard like tooth enamel. From that would come the tradition to sheath handles of samurai sabres and armours
because shagreen is very strong.
Japanese sabres, handle sheathed shagreen, towards 1700_ Private Collection
With sea routes, shagreen arrived in Europe and France where the skin is used as an abrasive by wood craftsmen.
But, it is necessary to take into account the distinction between shagreen with big or small grains. Indeed, they are two different species of fish.