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.
Earrings made in the filigree style, 925 silver
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.
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 whole working process making a filigree silver brooch. Right row 3: silver pieces to make 2 meters of silver thread per piece | middle row 3: under beating the tiny silver pieces into massive tubes | left row 3: going through a machine to make it flat | right row 2: double the silver thread to make a stronger thread | middle row 2: the outline of a leave | left row 2: make all the leaves you need for a brooch | right row1: make little fragments for the inside of the leave, to fill it in | middle row 1: continue doing so | left row 1: the result: a silver filigree brooch
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.