Justin Ebanks may be at the beginning of his career, but he has already made significant inroads.
At 23, Ebanks is said to be the first Caymanian to become a Rolex-trained watchmaker.
It’s a livelihood that came naturally to the Kirk Freeport employee – he practically grew up in the luxury goods store.
While waiting for his grandmother Mazie Powery to finish work, Ebanks would hang around, helping out when he could.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 5 or 6 years old,” he says. “I grew up around watchmakers and jewelers.”
When he was old enough to work, Kirk Freeport hired him as a trainee in the repair department. At 17, he went to work full time after graduating from John Gray High School in 2007, honing his skills under the mentorship of senior watchmaker Stefan Breitenlechner.
Ebanks was accepted into the prestigious Rolex watchmaker program, completing his apprenticeship in 2011 under the tutelage of Breitenlechner and passed his final exams.
He has since attended the Rolex Watchmaker School for the Caribbean and South America in Nassau, Bahamas, for further intense training.
“I enjoy the trouble-shooting, the problem solving,” he says. “It’s almost like mini-Lego.”
He says working on timepieces is similar to working on a car – except that a watch fits into the palm of your hand. “You have to remove all the parts, put them back together, do the lubrication and then do the final testing to see how efficient it’s running.”
Another up-and-coming Caymanian at Kirk Freeport is 19-year-old Elizabeth Schvartz – the first female apprentice jeweler in the company’s history.
She started as a jewelry and watch sales associate, leaving in 2012 to undertake specialist training at the Gemological Institute of America in the U.S., with Kirk Freeport funding half of the seven-month course under a scholarship agreement. She is now a certified GIA graduate jeweler and accredited jewelry professional.
Schvartz says she has always had an interest in jewelry – a passion shared by her father – and welcomed the opportunity to turn it into a career.
“I just fell into it as a hobby,” she says. “I’d fool around with it at home, making little bracelets and things.”
She says her training in California was valuable, opening new avenues in the field: “It was a really great course. They teach you not so much about repairs but fabrication and custom work. I really enjoy that – creating something from scratch.”
Schvartz returned to work at Kirk Freeport in April and is getting further on-the-job training under the guidance of jeweler Philip Wight and jewelry repair technician Yuri Eden. She’s particularly interested in custom work, and plans to create several pieces from managing director Gerry Kirkconnell’s collection to feature in the stores. “I really like that part – sketching out what to do and then putting it together,” she says.
Ebanks enjoys design work as well. “I’m more interested in research and development, creating designs and making it more efficient,” he says.
Both plan to hone their skills at Kirk Freeport, and see where it takes them.
“I’m going to continue to work here and learn as much as I can,” says Ebanks. “From there, it’s an open road – there are lots of opportunities.”