K&S Natural Horn Color Classification
I am a knife enthusiast and I am a big fan of good-looking handles. This is one of the main reasons that I introduced K&S custom handles at the very beginning of K&S back in 2014.
(K&S launched the Syousin Sakura with the popular octagonal ebony WA handle with black horn and metal spacer back in 2014, our first collaboration with Sakai Takayuki)
Things have changed a lot over the years, yet many of you would probably agree that when it comes to handles, nothing beats the look and feel of a natural horn ferrule: it has the classic aura that just can’t be replaced by any other materials and sometimes the figure can be incredibly attractive. I love the warmth feeling and its natural sheen, which is missing in synthetic materials like plastic, resin blocks or metal.
(When handles are delivered to K&S, I often set aside the ones with the coolest looking ferrules)
As a handle fanatic, one thing that I must do everytime when we receive a new batch of handles, is to go through them thoroughly. I always check the quality of the handles, make sure they are up to the K&S standards, but most importantly, I will pick out the ones with best horn figure and color.
I don’t know man, it is just like a kid doing shell picking on the beach and be very happy to find a nice shell. I would be very happy if I found a beautiful looking horn! While I wish I could one day use these handles on my own knives, truth is these handles become a special collection, often used in special edition knives.
History aside, I have gone through thousands of handles as a professional seller. Traditionally horn is classified into two main categories: black horn, blonde (marble) horn; yet I noticed that there are so many types of blonde / marble horn patterns, hence one simple classification is not enough. In this blog post, I will explain my way of classifying natural horn colors and figure, along with how often they show up in the handles that I received.
(Knives and Stones natural horn color classifications, from left to right: black, black marble, jade blonde, red marble, cream ivory)
Side note: I think the simple black and blonde (marble) horn classification exists because it helps the majority of customers to make an easier decision and to keep business' overhead down. K&S uses the same black / blonde scheme because, as far as I am concerned, it is just impossible for a sensible business to take a photo of every single handle / knife for a customer to select. The communication and time cost is prohibitively high. I think those requests should be directed to custom makers, and the customer should expect to pay a lot more for the highly detailed service.
One of the most common horn color is the black horn and the price is relatively low. Of course, even black buffalo horn is still considered a prestige material by Japanese knife makers and mostly used by premium brands (for example Masamoto Sohonten uses horn exclusively). Many knife regions still starve on such materials (We often see Echizen handles come with pakkawood ferrule, which is a type of engineered wood/plastic composite). Knives and Stones use black horn in most of our standard ebony octagonal handles.
(A simple K&S ebony octagonal WA handle with black horn ferrule)
(Sometimes natural figures appear in the black horn, which is entirely normal)
The reason most of the horn ferrule color is black because THIS IS the natural color of the buffalo horn. My understanding is that, the blonde / white colored horn is formed due to animal albino (animal losing pigmentation) which is naturally quite rare. As a result, demand always outweighs supply and blonde horn has been increasingly harder to source in recent years.
Black marble is the usual marble horn we often see, comprised of blonde and black stripes.
(A K&S ebony octagonal WA handle with black marble horn, this is what we usually refer to as "marble horn")
When talking about blonde horn, the jade blonde is what we often see. It has minimal figure, inclusion, and has a gold / green hue, resembling jade. We see most of the pure blonde horn in this form.
(A K&S ebony octagonal WA handle with jade blonde horn. While quite pure, the blonde color is a little bit pale, and lacks vibrancy)
(Masamoto Sohonten KS3124 Gyuto delivered with jade blonde horn with light figure. Personally I think Masamoto Sohonten is the only manufacturer in Japan that can consistently supply handles with blonde horn ferrules）
The Black marble and Jade blonde are the typical color that a customer will normally receive. They are rare but still possible to source from knife makers. The following two colors are the most exotic form of blonde horn I have came across over the years.
Red marble is similar to black marble in terms of pattern but with red stripes rather than black stripes. Such patterned horn is significantly harder to come across compared to black marble. AFAIK, only Masamoto Sohoten is able to deliver handles with red stripes in a meaningful quantity. While K&S is able to get some of these from the manufacturer, it is still a very rare occurrence. I don’t record anyone else has been shipping handles with red marble in batches, not even custom makers. If I see a handle with red marble ferrule, and the blonde color is creamy, I will surely set it aside.
(A K&S ebony octagonal WA handle with red marble horn, showing the vibrant and warmth red / cream texture)
(A Masamoto Honyaki Yanagiba shipped to us came with a red marble handle)
I also specifically ask my supplier to use the most beautiful horn in the premium K&S handles, so one should expect the average horn color is higher in our premium handles.
(K&S special Amboyna burl, D shaped handle, with the exotic red marble horn ferrule)
/ Update 9/June/2020 /
I had a thought over the weekend, and what really makes the red marble standout in the above example, is more or less to do with the creamy white color as well; and in my collection of exotic handles, the black marble with creamy white color is also very attractive, so I'd say the Cream Black Marble is on par with the red marble.
(A K&S ebony octagonal WA handle with the cream black marble horn)
Among the variants of the exotic marble handles, there are also the Red Black
(Sometimes there is also the Red Black mix!)
and when red almost takes over the entire horn...
(When the red has taken over the horn, resulting in a almost red horn. There are very little of such, and the color is more like either one would like it or hate it)
The crown jewel of blonde horn in my opinion is the cream ivory color. Compared to the jade blonde which has a cold greenish hue, the cream ivory color, as it suggests, is like a cream cheese. When polished and buffed, the horn gives a almost ivory like feel which I personally likes a lot. Not to mention it also has one of the rarest occurrences in our blonde horn handle deliveries.
It is illegal to trade ivory, so the cream ivory horn is as close as an ivory (Mammoth ivory will break the bank). I would say the red marble and cream ivory horn combined represents less than 5% of the total blonde horn handle delivered to Knives and Stones. One might argue that the red marble horn looks more sophisticated, which I totally agree. I rate both the red marble and cream ivory highly, but due to the rarity, I personally rate the cream ivory slightly "better".
(A K&S ebony octagonal handle with cream ivory horn, my favorite color amongst blond horns. It looks almost like a true ivory in terms of color and feel, such natural feel cannot be replicated by synthetic ivory)
(As I was researching, I found this pic at KKF uploaded by member "fujiyama", which I figure somewhat proves my point: the red marble and cream ivory horn colors are extremely hard to come by. Amongst these Konosuke knives, while all could be classified as blonde horn ferrule under the classic classification system, only the 4th from top is the red marble color and the rest can be classified as jade blonde, there was no cream ivory color. The red marble is clearly more vibrant and has a warmth feeling.)
In my years as a knife seller, both of red marble and cream ivory are super rare yet distinctively different to other blonde / marble horns. Hence I think it is probably a good idea to share this with you. I don’t think such topic has been discussed before, probably due to the fact that any blonde horn is already scarce enough. Nevertheless, I am a knife enthusiast myself, and I LOVE horn ferrules. I hope you find this piece of information useful 😊