Stingray, or “shagreen” as it used to be called, is not exactly the latest fashion. It has been around for centuries. Originally introduced into the Royal French Court around 1740 by Monsieur Galuchat, the Court’s Master Leatherworker, it became quickly popular amongst all the highest of European social circles.
Stingray skin certainly has an unmistakable texture. The skins resemble the thickness of cow hides and have the ability to absorb a fantastic range of colour dyes. Known for its incredible durability and toughness, stingray is probably the hardest wearing of all exotic skins. For years, local fishermen would dry out the skins of the stingray in the hot sun and then use them as sandpaper to work on their fishing boats.
Unlike many exotic furs and skins, stingray is caught and eaten for its meat. In the South China Sea area, they are a staple diet and the skin would be otherwise discarded, so it is in essence a natural by-product. The ocean supply of stingray is plentiful and they are nowhere near being an endangered species.
Demand for stingray skin remains strong worldwide. But beware – there are different levels of quality and plenty of fake or “faux” stingray. The average skin is only about 12 inches wide, so if you see large pieces covered in stingray without seams – such as furniture or wallpaper – you know that particular item never started life under the sea. Watch out also for the dyed white perfect diamond shape that is meant to represent the stingray backbone. The real backbone is more a series of graduated white dots in a straight line.
Crawford makes a range of accessories and jewellery in non-endangered stingray skin. Each piece is handmade and will outlast its rivals in leather, ostrich, alligator or any of the other exotics. “Aside from the handmade quality, incredible durability and lifetime guarantee we give on all our products,” says creative designer Alastair Crawford, “what our clients really love is the range of 30 spectacular colours we offer our stingray in.” Couple that with the seemingly endless stream of new designs that Crawford introduce each year, and it becomes easy to understand why their merchandise is in such hot demand.
Stingray skin is virtually maintenance-free. It can get wet – after all, it was a fish originally. Most dirt and stains can be removed with a damp cloth. It won’t fade, crack or wear. It may be one of the lesser-known of the exotic skins, but its popularity worldwide is never in question. After all, the social elite have been buying it for over 250 years.