Why is there a big white "eye" on most stingray leather products?

Posted by Administrator on 4/4/2015 to Leather Knowledge
In September of last year, we made a video in response to customer concerns over the authenticity of the stingray leather that we use in some of our exotic leather products. Some of these customers felt that because our stingray leather products do not have a white "eye" or "diamond" on them that the leather we use is not genuine stingray leather.   They had been mistakenly told by some other product manufacturers and retailers that this mark proves that the stingray leather in their product is real.   While we know that the stingray leather we use in our products is genuine, we made that video to help inform those customers of the origin of stingray leather and the story behind that white "eye" that some claim is the mark of stingray leather authenticity.

You can watch that video in our Tom Barrington YouTube channel.

In that video, we showed the progression of stingray leather from it's origins on an actual stingray fish through the leather tanning process and the eventual product manufacturing process itself.  Over the course of that video we showed that this white "eye" or "diamond" shape that is on most stingray leather products, despite some claims to the contrary, is not a natural occurrence in stingray leather and does not in any way prove it's authenticity. As shown in our video, this white "eye" or "diamond" is nothing more than a painted mark on the leather by the tannery or product manufacturer.  At the time we made this video, I stated that I was unaware of the reason for the white "eye" but assumed it was simply a marketing gimmick to highlight the area in the leather that came from the back of the stingray fish to "prove" the genuine nature of the leather. While I was correct in showing that the mark was simply painted on the leather, my assumptions as to the purpose that it is painted on stingray leather, was wrong. I have since come to realize the true reason for this white "eye" on stingray leather.

So, if the white "eye" is not a natural part of stingray leather, does not prove it's authenticity, and is not a marketing gimmick, why is it painted on stingray leather?

To answer this, I need to explain a little bit about the tanning process for stingray leather and the composition of the leather itself so that you can have an understanding of what I am about to tell you. I won't go into a lot of detail and I'll try to be very brief.

Stingray leather basically consists of a base substrate leather, the actual skin of the stingray fish, and a bunch of beads that cover the skin that once functioned as it's protection from predators. These beads are made of calcium. As you can imagine, when this calcium is dried during the leather tanning process, they become very hard. It is this natural feature of stingray leather that made it so desirable and the reason this leather was used as armor for ancient warriors, and grips on samurai swords.

Because of the composition of the leather, the tanning and dyeing process requires a few steps. The first step occurs in a dyeing drum where the substrate leather, the actual stingray skin that becomes the leather, is tanned and dyed. Because the surface of the leather is covered in calcium beads which are naturally a whitish-gray color, and calcium does not absorb dye very well, a separate process is used to apply color to them. This process is called spray dyeing and involves the tannery or manufacturer spraying the dye over the surface of the calcium beads in several passes to apply color to the surface of the leather. It is the only way to apply dye to the surface of unsanded stingray leather so that the intended color can be used. (fully or partially sanded stingray leather is treated differently as it accepts dye much better than unsanded "caviar" stingray leather)

One other important characteristic of stingray leather is that the leather itself is uneven. The area of the stingray leather where the nodules of the stingray backbone once were (the small round beads usually covered by a white "eye") is higher than the rest of the leather. As such this area receives more abrasion as it comes in contact with other objects, namely the fabric of pants when products made from this leather are inserted and removed from pockets of it's owner. This abrasion causes the surface dye to begin to wear and eventually rub off revealing the whitish-gray color of the calcium beads below the surface dye.

Through exposure to light, oils from our hands, and abrasion during use, most leather products, including those made from stingray leather, age and develop a unique patina during it's lifetime. This patina is how leather products show aging, is different for every type of leather, and gives the articles made from it the character that is so cherished by many. To most lovers of stingray leather this wearing of the dye revealing the random calcium beads below the surface, is that cherished aging or patina process that occurs over the life of a stingray leather product.

stingray leather patinaTo those who aren't as familiar with the aging of caviar stingray leather, this wearing process looks like a defect in the leather or the manufacturing process of the product purchased. While those who cherish this feature of stingray leather products understand this aging process, others do not, and that brings me to the real reason why most stingray leather products have a white "eye" painted on them.

The white "eye" painted on stingray leather is painted over the center of stingray leather products, the area that is the highest point in the leather and subject to the most abrasive wear, not to prove authenticity, but for no other reason than to hide or camouflage this aging or patina effect so that when the surface dye wears off and reveals the calcium beads below, it blends in with the white painted "eye" or "diamond" shape and as a result, it is less noticed by the owner of that product.

We choose not to put a white "eye" or "diamond" on our stingray leather products for the simple reason that we love the natural look of caviar stingray leather and the unique characteristics of the aging and patina process that occurs over the life of the products we make. We understand that not everyone subscribes to our tastes and perhaps does not find this aged look of stingray leather as attractive as we do and that's okay too, but we do not believe in hiding the natural qualities of the leathers we use by painting camouflage marks on them and trying to convince you that it is the mark of authenticity.



Evan Petracca
Date: 11/8/2015
Hi Tom, Thanks for this article (and for the fantastic YouTube videos)! I am a big fan of stingray leather, and own multiple items (including a wallet, three belts and a watch band). My current stingray wallet looks very similar to the gift shop version as shown in your videos. The wallet, which has a white diamond design, has held up very well over the years, but the high stress areas have begun to come apart (as mentioned in your video). Your detailed explanations have led me to purchase one of your stingray wallets. I will be gifting my "vintage" stingray version to a friend. I now have a deeper appreciation for stingray leather, and will look to purchase items without the man-made white diamond moving forward. I'm looking forward to receiving my new wallet! Thanks again! Sincerely, Evan

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