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The tortoise shell: crafts of the island of La Reunion

The tortoise shell: crafts of the island of La Reunion ( At first sight of the creations of Nicol Payet, a visitor asked about this nature art or craft. A craftsman for 27 years, Nicol Payet combines talent, skill, and creativity to create unique works from the shell of green turtles.

The tortoise is an ancient and noble material, classified in the “semi –precious” category. Its attributes make it a unique material that transcends time.

According to the Washington Convention (CITES ) dated November 9, 2000, the activity of these special artisans on the island of La Reunion is guaranteed by an order that allows them to use the stocks of tortoiseshell inventoried before 1984. Payet Nicol, owner of the gallery, “The Taboo,” is one of the last four professionals on Reunion working tortoiseshell.

The tortoise is an honorable and living matter, both wild and refined. With reflections from dark to blond via redheads or bluish black or brown tones, which are the rarest, the shell consists of a panel of countless shades combined with the transparency of glass.

The aesthetic qualities of the material and its many opportunities for transformation forged its reputation. Used in both decorative art in everyday life, the tortoise is versatile.

“The material I liked right away!”

It was almost by chance that Nicol Payet is committed towards the work of the tortoise in 1982. “I listened at the door of the headmaster when I heard about an internship that would be created in Saint -Leu," said the craftsman. Thus, for six months before he left for military service, Payet Nicol began his internship in the old railway station of Saint -Leu, done at the time to receive training in handicrafts. A real thunderbolt born between man and the shell so that the artisan calls it a “magical material.” There, he learned the job of the shell, cutting material, welding, manufacture of jewelry, and marquetry (working tortoiseshell and wood).

Later, Nicol Payet added a new string to its bow: the lacquer. At the Picard, he studied lacquer work from a worker and artist - the Best of France (a silver medalist). For over two years, Nicol Payet perfected this skill before embarking on a business creation in 1988. Since then, he has worked with synthetic lacquer, chosen for its properties of adaptation in all media. The lacquer used is in fact a tinted varnish with natural pigments and applied to a plastic material (PVC). The result: “a modern panel that fears neither water nor ambient heat, and is sustainable" as underlined by the artisan.

For 27 years, Nicol Payet has transformed the shell of green turtle including his special technique using the lacquer. His expertise united with his inventiveness gives rise to the creation of lamps, furniture, cabinets, mirrors, and jewelry adorned with semi-precious stones and silver. The tortoiseshell offers a wide range of creations and may be associated with it. It creates added value in all media and creates beauty through the light emitted, “much like makeup!” Lance Nicol Payet says with a smile.

To achieve this outcome, the work of the tortoise requires “a lot of concentration. A bit like driving a car," insists the artist. The matter is complex: solid but brittle. Depending on its use, it should be cut, boiled, cut, and polished. For Nicol Payet, “a product is never finished before being showcased," as evidenced by the quality of its creations.

“A 27-year career and 27 years of happiness.”

The memories of Nicol Payet are all beautiful; no bad memory taints his 27-year career. His best memory, however, is the realization of his first coffee table in lacquer and tortoiseshell. “Exhibited at Exhibition Saint-Denis, she had found a buyer in the morning,” he recalled. The work he is most proud of is undoubtedly the realization of an array of items consisting of a jacaranda in various colors depending on its exposure to light.

The tortoise is a rare commodity: it is an advantage for the island of La Reunion that allow travelers to experience this dying art. Creations by Nicol Payet, and with them the craft of the island of La Reunion, have been exported to Italy, China, the United States, England, Australia, and France. With international export of his work, the goal is reached for one who “likes to work the material but [whose] goal it is to please people." His greatest reward? “When someone enters the store for something and leaves with anything!” exclaims Nicol Payet.

MEDIA CONTACT: Reunion Island Tourism Board, Tel: +33 810 160 000, Fax: +262 262 21 00 21, Web:

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