In my search for traditional jewelry of different cultures to get inspiration from my new collection, I ended up in Ecuador. My father always told me that only the best silversmith makes filigree jewelry. Since it takes a lot of craftsmanship and patience to make those tiny little pieces. And to make a piece of filigree jewelry out of it. And in Ecuador, there is a village, Chordeleg, where nearly everyone makes filigree jewelry! Let me explain how a great silversmith makes filigree jewelry.
Chordeleg, the city of the filigree jewelry
Chordeleg is a little village in the neighborhood of Cuenca, an old city with a magnificent historical center. Cuenca is on the Unesco list of most beautiful cities in the world. The name Chordeleg means ‘golden waterfall’, and although at the moment most of the pieces of filigree jewelry they make here, are made of silver, there are beautiful gold pieces for sale too.
City of silversmiths
Anyhow, the city (only around 11.000 inhabitants) is from the origin of the city of the silversmiths in Ecuador. A long time ago when the Spanish were in charge in Ecuador they implemented the Spanish ‘guild system’ in Ecuador. The guilds were the groups of artisans, merchants or professionals, that practice the same trade or profession in a particular town. When a guild was very strong there lived only people with the same trade or profession in its own city. You have more of them in Ecuador, like Otavalo for leather products, Gualaceo for weaving, or San Bartolome, where you find most of the guitar makers and in Chordeleg they make filigree jewelry.
When we arrived in Chordeleg on a Saturday, the city was nearly empty, with no salesmen, no buyers, no tourists, and hardly any inhabitants. It was like the city was asleep, only to wake up for the big Sunday market, where the income for the whole week had to come in. Finally, we found a silversmith that wanted to show us how filigree jewelry is made.
The process of filigree jewelry making
You roll the flat thread into tiny flat balls or other shapes. When you have a few of them you make the outlines of a leaf, or flower, or any figure you want. And the silversmith places all the tiny flat balls or other shapes in the outlines. In this way, you make a piece of gorgeous very detailed filigree jewelry.
I could not help myself to buy filigree jewelry: a bracelet and a pair of earrings since I love this work that is done with such high-quality craftsmanship. This is the place where traditional crafts are used to make modern filigree jewelry. And in this way, the old craftsmanship has a great future ahead of them.
Where does filigree come from?
Making filigree jewelry is very difficult and it needs great craftsmanship to make a decent filigree piece. And although we have today all the machines and tools for the work, only a few silver or goldsmiths can do or want to do the job. Imagine that in the Etruscan and Greek Times this was the daily work for a jewelry maker.
They built up a gold or silver piece by soldering very small pieces of material together.
A little bit of filigree history
Filigree’s work has existed since 3000 BC. We have found filigree jewelry in graves in Mesopotamia (a country between the rivers the Eufrat and Tigris). The Egyptian jewelry makers were not that keen on making it; they likes cloisonné work better.
In India, you find a lot of this type of jewelry, especially they loved making chains of filigree. On the chains were all kinds of small filigree charms added. Even today you see this in India.
The best filigree workers are to be found in the old Phoenician cities.
Phoenicia or now Lebanon, could not cultivate enough food for the population in their country, which was mostly desert. They had many talents and one of them was negotiating and the other one was creativity. Around 1500 BC they became the best trading people, who bought raw material, bring it to their workshops, made jewelry (or something else) out of them, and sold it again.
They added the culture of their sellers into the jewelry so that it would be sold better. You might say that the Phoenician jewelry was the ‘father’ or ‘predecessor’ of our modern jewelry. The Greek and Etruscan jewelry makers brought the art of filigree to perfection.
Silver is beautiful and I think filigree jewelry, made of silver is one of the most delicate pieces of metal you can find. All the more reason to store your delicate pieces of jewelry safe. Away from dust and when you don’t wear your silver filigree jewelry, away from oxygen. Florencejewelshop wrote a PDF with a lot of information about how to clean and store your jewelry in a safe way. It is free. Just let me know where I can send it to.
Hug, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop