There are days when the staff at Santayana Jewelry isn’t sure whether it’s running a jewelry store or a Cuban bakery.
Customers step to the counter, point to the glass case and order guava pastelitos, arroz con pollo and Cuban coffee coladas. These tasty-looking sterling silver charms made in-house adorn bracelets and cuff links and celebrate Miami culture.
They’ve been making fine jewelry in Miami for 35 years. But these days, people can’t stop asking about the Internet’s latest desire: a tiny Cuban coffee maker you wear on your finger.
Enter, the Cafetera Ring.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: a wearable, two-inch tall replica of the octagonal Italian coffee makers Cubans use to brew their version of the sweet, strong jet fuel that powers Miami.
It’s kitschy. It’s amazingly detailed. And it just may dethrone the University of Miami football team’s Turnover Chain as the most iconic piece of jewelry to symbolize Miami.
“When people see it, they can’t believe it,” said Miriam Santayana, one of the three Santayana children who runs the store with their widowed mother. “It’s definitely a conversation piece.”
‘People stop in their tracks’
That’s exactly what Rudy Santayana was shooting for when he designed it more than five years ago for the annual Cuba Nostalgia convention.
The former Florida International advertising major uses the engineering software CAD to design everything from elegant engagement rings to cuff links featuring cans of Latin sodas like Jupiña and Iron Beer. One year, he made a caja china ring with a removable lid and a tiny, roasted sterling silver pig inside.
“Every year, I try to think of something weird,” said Santayana, who took over for his late father, Rodolfo, for whom the stretch of Southwest 122nd Avenue outside their store off of Southwest Eighth Street is name. “I like to make things that make people stop in their tracks at the booth. But I never thought it would be a bestseller.”
People stopped. But no one wanted to wear a kitchen appliance on her finger. Santayana brought the Cafetera Ring back to the store where it sat for more than a year.
“I was bummed that it didn’t sell,” Rudy said.
But then the internet slowly discovered it.
The Los Angeles based writer Marta Darby, who runs the blog My Big Fat Cuban Family, took a picture of the Cafetera Ring, posted it on her blog and turned it into a meme that read: “How to get a Cuban girl to marry you.”
One of her followers, Zelde Malevitz, saw it — and had to have it.
“I was so knocked over by it,” said Malevitz, who isn’t Cuban but is a devotee of Latin culture and Cuban coffee. “When I saw the Cafetera Ring, I knew it was for me. I’m a Cafe La Llave girl — I would have an IV of Cuban coffee all day. When I saw it, it just sang to me.”
Malevitz has since moved from Los Angeles to Miami Beach, where she wears her ring on special occasion to oohs and ahhs.
“When I wear it, it gets lots of attention,” she said.
It doesn’t actually brew coffee
If you want your own Cafetera Ring, it will cost you.
The smallest, functional aluminum cafetera at Sedano’s will run you about $3. This sterling silver Cafetera Ring will set you back $350.
Then again, more than 40 man hours go into hand-crafting a cafetera so fine you can wear it to dinner party. The silver is polished to a glimmer. The top and handle are painted in the traditional black, in enamel. And the top does open and close.
But, no, sorry, it doesn’t actually brew a tiny cup of espresso.
“The ring is a showpiece. It’s not something we expected to sell a lot of,” Elena Santayana said.
That may soon change.
Last week the website Abuela Mami Miami — a subscription service for Cuban care packages owned by a friend of one of the owners — shot a video of the making of the Cafetera Ringthat had been shared more than 2,700 times on Facebook. The jewelers have sold three more rings since, and have two more on order.
“There seems to be a Cuban renaissance, a renewed interest in the things from our culture — croquetas, coladas,” Elena said. “And this is a conversation starter.”
No one has asked to put a diamond inside the lid to make it an engagement ring – yet.
Carlos Frías is the Miami Herald food editor.