Between the organic fruit and hand-poured candles at Cayman’s craft markets, Launa Green’s jewelry stand is something of an institution. Beautifully polished Caymanite with its trademark rippled stripes glints off the black tablecloths, carved into miniature turtles, stingrays and starfish pendants.
Such designs have adorned the neck of Miss Cayman Islands 2016, Monyque Brooks, as well as many returning tourists and local devotees.
Building a business
Born and raised in the Cayman Islands, Green discovered her craft and vocation more by accident than design. Her cousin was making jewelry in the late 1980s and worked for Joseph Jackman, renowned for his work with native black coral and Caymanite. “One day he said to me, ‘Launa, instead of watching television, come on up and learn this,’” she recalls.
Green was soon designing jewelry as gifts for friends and family, and eventually added sculptures and other artworks to her repertoire. As demand grew, spread by word-of-mouth, she realized there was scope to turn this into a commercial venture. In 2001 she established a small shop in the building that is now Guy Harvey’s.
Today, she is a familiar face at the Market at the Cricket Grounds, where she sells every Friday and Saturday, as well as at Camana Bay’s Farmers and Artisans Market on Wednesdays and the Thursday night barbecue at Holiday Inn.
An ongoing collaboration with Jose Inga, an artist originally from Ecuador, has been pivotal to the business. With a background in working marble, Inga is responsible for the sculptural components of her designs. The duo shares a workshop on Barton Road in George Town. “We’re like brother and sister,” Green says.
She also counts on her cousin to help with the logistics of running a market stall. “When you go mobile it takes an extra pair of hands – you need two people to set up and pack everything away.”
Truth in materials
Found only beneath the jagged crust of Grand Cayman and the craggy cliffs of the Bluff in Cayman Brac, Caymanite was formed millions of years ago when layers of volcanic ash hardened and compressed into layers of sedimentary rock. This natural stone ranges widely in color – from the palest creamy shades, through warm oranges and reds to jet black.
“I make Caymanite the focus of my jewelry because it is unique to our island,” Green says. “I love that the colors always vary and I love the layers. There will always be tiny differences.”
She also works with local corals and shells, such as conch, and tends to depict Cayman flora and fauna in her creations as well as simpler teardrop, heart or circular shapes. “I like to make the designs connect to things from here, like starfish, turtles and stingrays,” she says. “I always try to represent the island.”
Achieving the brilliant marble-like finish is a time-consuming task: “Caymanite isn’t as easy to work with as people think. Sometimes we have brought students in to train them for free, but then they go for lunch and don’t come back. It takes time, you see. You have to love what you do,” she says.
Whether working with Caymanite or shells, Green’s designs are cut and shaped on a diamond wheel blade, then refined using sandpaper of various grit sizes, and finally polished with cloth. She admits that Inga makes much quicker work of it than she does, completing a bespoke piece in two to three days, whereas “for me it takes about three weeks!”
A raw Caymanite rock is included with the jewelry packaging, showing customers the material in its original state.
A labor of love
Green continues creating for “the joy of it” – seeing a little girl treasure a bracelet she was given as a birthday present, hearing people compliment the craftsmanship, and even encountering tourists who have heard of her work.
“I’ve had visitors coming up asking, ‘Are you Launa? Such and such sent me to you and said not to buy from anyone else.’”
What is distinctive about her pieces? “The detailing – other people make stingray pendants, for example, but on ours you will see the eyes, the mouth, the markings on its back.” Many of her designs are custom-made, working from images provided by a client, with previous commissions even coming from the Department of Tourism.
She also sells her jewelry online, and has plans to overhaul her website soon and to start trading through Facebook. “The tech part I’m not so good at,” she admits. “I just love to sit working with beads.”
Although she is a traditionalist at heart, Green is one of few market traders in Cayman who accepts credit card payments from customers. She found this service was “very easy” to set up, as it turned out.
When it comes to words of advice for aspiring jewelers, or craft traders of any kind, Green insists that honesty is the best policy. “Always be truthful to your clientele,” she says. “Tell them if something doesn’t suit them and suggest something better – they will thank you for it and keep coming back.”