This article first appeared in the January 28, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper
Bella Ornaf dubs herself not just a jewelry designer but a “shark wrangler.”
Strictly speaking, the term means “someone who takes a string and wraps it around a fish tail or a fish head and then throws it into the water” to try and get a sharks attention, thereby inviting the majestic creature to come closely to a diver’s cage for a personalized experience. Loosely redefined, she is a woman bringing the depths of the wild ocean to customers bold enough to wear her adventurous creations through her jewelry shop FIN Montauk, a jewelry company focusing on creating wearable fossilized shark teeth.
“It was always difficult for me to find and build my own personal jewelry collection,” said Ornaf, who founded FIN in 2013, adding that in her own style she prefers jewelry creations to “be unique, one-of-a-kind and timeless, otherwise I pass right by them, not my style.” Growing up she had a thing for sharks, despite the rougher connotation. “Sharks weren’t the ‘girly’ thing to like but I’ve never been one to follow the pack.”
That same train of thinking has influenced her adventurous jewelry.
It’s FIN’s mission to instill hope, meaning, education, and strength from each of the pieces it makes. It also makes a yearly donation to non-profits supporting shark conservation.
“We’ve seen products made in China, which, again, goes against our values as we care for human beings,” Ornaf empathically explained. “We have no idea who is making the pieces, what their wages and ages are, and what chemicals are going into the product, and thus into our environment.”
Ornaf is a first generation American from Bronxville, New York, which is a stark difference to the surfer town she resides in today. She is a globetrotter with former addresses including Poland and Norway. Inspiration has been all around her from fine Polish artisans to the “organic natural beauty of the fjords,” she says.
“I came to Montauk for the sharks, stayed for the sharks,” Ornaf chuckled. In an ironic contrast, her husband, James Katsipis, who is a photographer, essentially swims with sharks while taking pictures of local surfers. “We’re both water people and creative, so it’s only natural that both our professions are ocean-based, it’s where our hearts lie.”
Most shark jewelry is made with modern shark teeth but FIN takes a unique approach. The company, which is ethically against killing sharks, strictly uses fossilized shark teeth, roughly 30 million years old, and promises no replicas. Each one is found 200 feet down around treacherous, undisclosed locations throughout the Atlantic Ocean by Captain Chuck Wade of the Sea Turtle.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend. However, a Megalodon fossil tooth is the best friend that takes your hand and promises one heck of an adventure. Ornaf uses fossils of Megalodon teeth from the extinct species of shark that swam the oceans millions of years ago. The Megalodon, which means “big tooth,” had an estimated length of 60 feet. The largest intact tooth found was over seven inches.
Each tooth is placed on a deerskin lace cord, with plans to use alternative material. A less heavy version of the necklace features a gold vermeil chain. The Gold Dipped Charmed FIN comes on a black, waxed, cotton cord, with the cast pieces on a chain.
Maintenance of the jewelry seems contradictory for the average Montauk resident, or visitor in summertime. Keeping anything away from dirt, oils, or salt water in an area surrounded by waves is nearly impossible. To help, the teeth are placed in a reusable, muslin drawstring bag, which is best for absorbing oils. Use it for more than just jewelry — your wallet, coins or any little treasure.
Right now there are necklaces, cufflinks, rings and ear bites, ranging in price from $100 and up. However, after an insightful discussion with a Costa Rican artisan, new designs are on the way. “You’ll have to wait and see, but it’s going to be killer!” Ornaf said. Yet, nothing brings pride like seeing a piece being worn.
“[I feel] like I’ve done something good, and I always wonder how [the person’s] feeling wearing it, and hoping it’s empowered, magical, and unstoppable.”
There are plans for popups in West Palm Beach in February and Costa Rica in March. Other notable colleagues assisting in FIN Montauk are Rebekah Harris of Silverella, Jose Gomez Davidson of J.A.G.D. Jewels, and Annie Gutheridge of Bimini Shark Lab. Other colleagues include Memory Motel, Amanda Beckmann from Montauk Beach House and Navy Beach, Girl Tauk, Gloria Jewel, The Golden Eagle, and Montauk Hard Label. Ornaf’s husband, Katsipis, also serves as the shop’s in-house photographer.
FIN Montauk is located at 692 Montauk Highway during high season. Follow them on social media @finmontauk, tag them using #finmontauk. Want to learn more? Visit www.finmontauk.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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