de Grisogono - Skin on Skin

Nobody stops us from enjoying the beauty of this Earth and its various creatures in myriad ways. One of them is jewellery made of stingray leather, especially when it has been crafted as beautifully as by de Grisogono. Are there any further consequences to this enjoyment?

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: September 10, 2011

de Grisogono stingray leather braceletStingray leather, or Shagreen as it’s also called, has been mystifying artists and consumers for centuries now. This ‘material’ has had a history brimming of exclusivity and uniqueness. So why won’t those fashionistas still swoon to own something crafted from stingray leather?

Stingrays are actually water animals – quite like winged phantoms - evolved from sharks more than 200 million years ago. Early craftsmen, after witnessing stingray’s sturdy and multi-patterned skin, itched to transmit this beauty in their craft. They believed the stingray brought strength and power to those who handled it. The white, pearly backbone was thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

Mr Fawaz Gruosi of de Grisogono also reminisces these times in history - “Since time immemorial, people have been working with Galuchat (French name for stingray leather). Some Egyptian tombs contained funerary objects wrapped in fishskins – as was noted by Jean Perfettini in his book ‘Le Galuchat’. But probably the first people to work with galuchat by polishing it were the Japanese. They used this robust material to decorate sabre handles and sheaths, as well as Inro (miniature portable medicine boxes).” Coming a little more forward, 18th century French artisan Jean-Claude Galuchat (hence the name Galuchat) used stingray skin for Louis XV to adorn various items like sheaths, wig cases and snuff boxes.

de Grisogono stingray leather accessoriesThe magic that stingray leather still holds over consumers is perhaps best spelled out by Mr Gruosi himself. “Shagreen is a rare gift from the sea. Skin upon skin. A precious jewel encrusted leather, lovingly following the curve of the neck, nestling in the nook of the wrist just where the heartbeats are most clearly felt. The very name, Shagreen, or Galuchat, is evocative of its mysterious maritime nature, for it is indeed a treasure which comes to us from the depths of seas,” he fondly says.

Mr Gruosi started working with this material when he made straps for his watches out of it. But today, de Grisogono also has a complete collection fashioned out of shagreen. He rediscovered galuchat in Paris through an artisan who still knew how to work with it. Mr Gruosi recalled this fine material which he had worked into fine watch straps. Having experienced this fascinating element once, Mr Gruosi seriously started contemplating dedicating an entire collection of high-jewellery to this beautiful leather.

And here is the result. The necklaces tenderly wrap round elegant necks, intimately following the curve of the nape. The eye is arrested by this brutish material scattered with diamond like droplets of sparkling sea-water. A number of spectacular necklaces, bracelets and earrings, made of stingray leather, are adorned with diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones.

But while we are enjoying this artistic, beautiful jewellery, is it actually correct? In this world of increased environmental consciousness, how justified is it to use living beings for our pleasure, especially for purposes of vanity?

de Grisogono stingray watch strapThe shagreen that de Grisogono uses comes from the Dascyatis Zugei species, a pale-edged or sharp-nosed specie. This small stingray lives in the Indo-Pacific region and is highly sought after for its meat which is consumed by Koreans in particular. These stingrays come from Indonesia and de Grisogono says that the fishing is done by trawlers who are licensed to fish for stingrays.

“The skin of these stingrays is recovered as a by-product of fishing. Therefore the stingray leather is a derivative of the more common practice of catching them for food. The stingrays are already dead when their skin is removed,” says Mr Gruosi. He also insists that extreme care is taken while gaining the stingray leather. de Grisogono ensures that all its stingray suppliers conform to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora & Fauna) norms on slaughtering of stingrays.

To be able to exert absolute control, Mr Gruosi is also contemplating starting his own stingray farm.

A system seems to be in place to protect stingrays, and de Grisogono and other jewelers don’t seem to be scared of animal protection organizations coming to their doorstep. So how about turning back to appreciate the stunning galuchat jewellery?

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