About Rainforest Design®
The tropical rainforest spanning Panama and the Darien Gap to Colombia is an untamed natural ecosystem few people will ever witness firsthand. Hidden in these exotic jungles are some of the world's most gifted carvers; the native Wounaan Indians of the rainforest. While the females work in creating decorative baskets, the men are known for their carving skills. Using what is available to them, these talented carvers create portable works of art from wood and tagua nuts, also called vegetable ivory.
Fortuitously, a North American entrepreneur, Andy Ike, who exported Queen's Helmet shells (cassis madagascariensis spinella) also called Sardonyx Shell, from the Caribbean to Italy for the cameo industry there, began looking for local artisans with the ability to carve high quality tagua nuts, with the idea of giving them shells to carve cameos. After providing several potential candidates the tools and shells with which to practice, and many failed attempts, he found one Wounaan artisan whose skill level rose high above the rest and who was capable of carving the delicate shells into unique, exotic cameos. This one individual subsequently taught other close Wounaan family members, and a new skillset was born.
In 2004, a symbiotic relationship was developed when Roslyn Zelenka, another North American resident of Panama, met Andy that became Rainforest Design®. Roslyn spearheads the design process, determining what she wants the carvers to create, always inspired by the flora and fauna of the tropical rainforest and the cultural heritage of Panama. Andy selects the shells and prepares the blanks for the Wounaan artisans to carve. Blanks are portions of shells that are cut into ovals or other shapes to become the 'canvas' on which the carver will create his artistry. Roslyn then works with local Panamanian goldsmiths and decides how the finished jewelry should look, often accented with gemstones and pearls, but always reflecting her preference for a subtle understated luxury that can be worn every day. Orchids, lizards, frogs, bird of paradise flowers, and toucans are but a few of the distinct themes brought to life with realism under the artful carving of these talented Indians.
One of a Kind Hand Carved Cameos
We offer loose cameos or those mounted in the finest 18K gold, accented by colorful gemstones and pearls set in graceful designs by master goldsmiths. We also offer elegant pieces created in 950 silver, and 950 silver with gold plating. Every item is 100% hand made in Panama with no manufactured components. Our unmounted cameos are favored by collectors who appreciate the original cameos in their mint condition.
Renowned master cameo carver and expert Helen Serras-Herman offers words of praise for these carved jewels. "These cameos are absolutely beautiful. Fine detail, well finished, carved in stunningly high relief. . . The subject themes are beautiful too. They are unique in the market. . ."
These one-of-a-kind cameos are best enjoyed slowly, the better to take in the subtle nuances that distinguish each individual piece. Linger awhile on the following pages of our cameo collections. Let them speak to you in a captivating language all their own.