One rock at a time, local designer George Raymond is chipping his way into a profitable success.
But it is not just any stone that Mr. Raymond is seeking. What caught his eye is the semi-precious stone found only in the Cayman Islands – Caymanite, a rare commodity.
But his success does not come without a price. Mr. Raymond sometimes find himself in some precarious situations as he climbs the ironshore cliffs to chip off a piece from the layers of the white limestone.
“Things have certainly changed since I first designed a dog from Caymanite and made my first dollar just after leaving high school, compared to today when I can make hundreds of dollars. To me the Caymanite is more than semi-precious it is precious,” he said.
A long time ago, it is believed volcanic activity created these semi-precious stones with its colourful hues of light beige to beautiful amber on Cayman Brac bluff, the East End of Grand Cayman and in Little Cayman.
It was in the 1970s that Caymanite was discovered when a man from Mobile, Alabama found it during a trek. He took it back with him, made into a pendant and that is how Caymanians knew they had a gem in hand.
In some places the Caymanite can be millions of years old after being formed in the rocks years ago from sediment build up. “Sometimes I will find a very valuable vein, which consist of the darker hues and make quite a profit,” he said.
What is remarkable about the indigenous stone, it is highly valuable in the tourism industry and a way to make a living for those Caymanians who choose to take up the art. Over the years, Mr. Raymond claims the rock has become more popular and the value has increased dramatically.
Learning from art teacher Eddie Scott, Mr. Raymond started out by making simple designs.
“We would make very simple designs because back in those days the tools were limited with what we could create,” he said.
He remembers using an old ringer type washing machine motor with attached grinding wheels to sculpt the stones.
“Due to Caymanite’s hardness, special grinding tools are needed to cut and polish the stone,” he said. “The stone is easy to work with, but the more intricate and detailed pieces take more time to sculpt. Having the right equipment helps to get the designs finished much faster.”
Wanting to further his expertise in the business, Mr. Raymond joined the team at Black Coral And, where he spent a few months learning from one of the best in the sculpting field – the late Bernard Passman.
Today, he creates his own unique designs, which helps him keep ahead of the market.
“It would not have been possible if it was not for the specialised tools I use and learning from some of the best,” he said.
In his store on Cayman Brac, creative pieces can be found such as earrings, stingrays, turtles, pendants, fish and birds.
Mr. Raymond also works with black coral, but favours the colourful attractive Cayman rock because it is accessible on land and native to his home island.
Black coral is a deep water, tree-like coral found at depths of 100 feet. It appears light brown or white in colour and can be polished to a shiny black piece and sculpted into a design.
In years gone by, Caymanians had no choice but to utilise what the land gave up for survival; today a younger generation is heading back to its roots and finding and work through many indigenous items the islands has to offer.
Today, a number of Caymanians work with Caymanite; a form of dolomite often mounted in a gold setting because of its high salt content and sold as souvenirs from the Cayman Islands.