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The Art of Metal Working

Thinking jewelry? Think tin – the unlikely yet super cool material that makes up many of the pieces on our jewelry line {and some of our home décor items, too!} We love the rustically chic look of this malleable metal, which the talented artisans of L’Etainerie de Huye artfully mold into beautiful and unexpected shapes at their workshop in Butare, Rwanda.

Nestled amongst green pastures and lush, overhanging trees, L’Etainerie de Huye first opened its doors in 1983 with a group of 50 skilled and industrious metal workers. However, when the 1994 genocide began, the artisans of L’Etainerie were forced to flee and shut their business down. When the violence ended, there were only 10 of them left.

Some years went by and in 2003 the 10 remaining artisans decided to band together to reopen their shop and recruit and train other members of the community. Today, L’Etainerie employs 55 people and continues to spread its remarkable craft through a two-year apprenticeship program, during which time students learn the ins-and-outs of the metal working process – from material sourcing, to melting, shaping, sanding, polishing & more.

While you’ll have to travel to Rwanda to learn the little known secrets of the trade yourself, we’ve got a 101 crash course for you that – at the very least – will let you know what you’re in for. 

  • Step 1: Source the Tin. The artisans of L’Etainerie get their tin from “Phoenix Metal,” a smelter outside Kigali that locally sources all of its raw materials.
  • Step 2: Make a Mold. To create each unique tin product, the artisans place a hand-carved wooden sample (the exact same shape & size of the item!) inside a hollow frame and fill it with dirt. They then flip it over and hammer it until the dirt hardens around the sample, at which point it can be removed – leaving an empty imprint behind.
  • Step 3: Melt the Tin & Pour it Out. They then melt and liquefy the tin in an oven and pour it into the mold.
  • Step 4: Let it Cool. It only takes 1 minute for the tin to harden into its shape!
  • Step 5: Solder It, Sand It, Polish It. Now it’s time to make the tin look great – whether soldering together small pieces of metal, or sanding down and polishing products to perfection, a great deal of artistry and technique goes into making each piece smooth, shiny, and ready for use.
  • Step 7: Add Finishing Touches. When the products are polished and ready-to-go, the artisans add on any last finishing touches - like gluing on cowhorn accents or inlaying woven shapes – before the items are picked up by our production team & transported to our office in Kigali…

And voilà! Cool, unique jewelry and décor pieces that range from bold statement pendants, to elephant keepsake boxes, geometric stacking rings & more. 

In addition to the products that they make for us, L’Etainerie also has over 500 (!) molds that they use to make their own collections, which they sell right from their workshop. Their onsite store is filled to the brim with remarkably life-like and well-crafted animal figurines – from giraffes to snakes to rhinos and giraffes – in addition to a diverse range of other decorative and functional pieces.

L’Etainerie prides itself on its ability to create high-quality, well-designed, and creative products while constantly innovating to keep up with the needs of their market – primarily tourists, diplomats, and select partners {like us!} 

They are the only workshop of their kind in Rwanda – creating artisanal pieces out of pure tin – and we love the opportunity to partner with an organization that values creativity, design, and the art of the handmade just as much as we do!

To check out some of L’Etainerie de Huye’s amazing metal work, click here