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From husky coconut shell to unique jewellery pieces

From husky  coconut shell  to unique  jewellery pieces

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by Shana Jones

On a recent three-day getaway in Union Island, I happened on Chic Unique Boutique, a locally-owned souvenir shop on the island’s waterfront. Stepping up into the small rectangle of relief from the broiling sun, the colours immediately jumped out at me: vibrant blues and greens, brilliant reds, and bright whites brought to life the array of hats, shirts, dresses, bags, and trinkets covering every square inch of space. Yet, what caught my eye was neither bright nor colourful, neither large nor overtly captivating; it was the display of brown, wooden-looking adornment pieces made of coconut. Yes, that’s right: actual pieces of jewellery, from earrings to bangles to rings, all cut from coconut shells.

As a lover of things natural, I immediately had to try on a ring. Perfectly simple and unadorned, the dark brown flecked with short, pale pinstripes offered no contrast to my equally brown skin. Neither did the matching bangle, a single, similarly-coloured strip with the ends overlapping. I was already imagining myself as one of those Rastafarian women, in a long moderately-fitting dress and home-made leather sandals, locks piled on her head in a scarf, totally void of make-up or bling, rocking this wood-coloured jewellery, and yet strikingly beautiful…

…Back to reality. Right after the fascination with this idea of jewellery made out of a natural substance came the curiosity of how this is actually done. It’s hard to imagine how the rough, husky outer shell of a coconut can be transformed into a smooth, shiny, almost precisely-sized piece of jewellery; but some local artisans in Union and other Caribbean islands have mastered this skill. Chic Unique Boutique’s owner graciously connected me with some of the artisans responsible for her coconut pieces; so after some very informative chats, some burning questions were answered.

To make a coconut shell ring, one artisan first draws the shape (two concentric circles) and then sticks the drawing onto the coconut shell, using a gummy substance from a “cashy” tree in his backyard. The shape is cut out, using a coping saw, a manual fine-bladed saw with clamps on either end. Using a makeshift sanding machine, comprising a washing machine motor attached to a sandpaper layer, he removes some of the coconut shell husk and then files it with a rasp to refine its shape. He scrapes the ring with a piece of glass to remove some of the roughness, sandpapers it, and then proceeds with the two-stage buffing process. The ring is first buffed with a compound for shining, the makeshift buffer comprising a bundle of circular layers of jeans material connected to the washing machine motor. The second buff with Turtle Wax gives it that polished look.

For bangles, the artisan simply cuts off either end of a small coconut and then hollows out and refines the piece, using the techniques previously mentioned. To make a coloured piece, plexiglass-like strips are cut into small pieces and then Krazy-glued together. The artisan uses the sanding machine to apply the coloured bits to the jewellery piece and then shapes and refines it like normal.

Another artisan, whose creations also sell in Chic Unique Boutique, uses similar techniques and tools: Dremel tools for chiselling fine features like fish gills and pieces of concrete blocks to refine the shape and remove rough edges. He uses an epoxy for a gloss on some pieces, but foregoes this stage for customers who want the unrefined finish. Whoever the artisan, the end result is a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of jewellery that you can truly say represents the Union Island you’ve just discovered.

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