Olga Bandeira, 61, pays no attention to the confusion around her at the (re)opening of Joalharia do Carmo. The glasses toast, the voices celebrate, and even the camera flash goes off to capture the best images of the filigree pieces.
But Olga doesn’t care. With her hands marked by her labor, she practices her craft, preparing the filigree pieces and then filling them with fine thread.
Olga is a “filigree filler”. She came from Gondomar and is too focused to notice the place that welcomes her today: the Joalharia do Carmo, in downtown Lisbon, one of the most emblematic stores in Chiado.
The Art Nouveau façade was designed in 1925 by Norte Júnior – also the author of the Brasileira – and remains unchanged. Now, the jewelry store has been restored to receive only beautiful filigree pieces. An architecture jewel receives the greatest jewels of Portuguese jewelry.
Inês Barbosa is one of the artisans who has a showcase dedicated to her pieces at Joalharia do Carmo. She was born in Póvoa do Lanhoso – in Minho region, north of Portugal, and has been working in the filigree business for 44 years.
Joalharia do Carmo seling only filigree is the new project of Grupo Valor do Tempo (founder of Mensagem de Lisboa), which made a cooperation with the Póvoa de Lanhoso and Gondomar municipalities and the filigree certification body, A. Certifica, which establishes that only certified filigree will be sold in this jewelry store.
But what is certified filigree?
Teresa Costa, from A. Certifica, explains: “There is a specification that explains the history of the product, the characteristics of the product, the raw material of the product, and the way it is made. An almost “Bible” of certified filigree.”
Olga Bandeira, with well-trained hands, is one of the artisans (in this case, fillers) whose products are just that: certified filigree.
“I like to do this,” she says, with the delicate threads in her hands. She learned the art from her mother, in her hometown, Jovim, Gondomar.
“My father was one of those gentlemen who thought that women were supposed to stay at home, so my mother used to fill the pieces”. All the sisters learned, but Olga was the only one to embrace the profession.
This is a passion shared by Inês Barbosa, who learned from her father: “It is still very gratifying at the end of the day and see the pieces done”, she says.
That her work is honored in this jewelry store in Chiado is a reason for pride: “This dignifies the work of the artisan”.
Where does Filigree come from?
The word “filigree” comes from the Latin “filum” (thread) and “granum” (grain). In other words, it means “granulated wire”. It is a jewelry technique in which very fine gold or silver wires are used so that, flattened, they fill the “skeleton” that the craftsman created.
The fillers, like Olga Bandeira, have this difficult and meticulous work of filling the skeleton. A profession that many say is on the verge of extinction.
The Viana heart is the most famous examples of filigree. It dates back from the 18th century and was created by the queen D. Maria I when her son was born: it was for him that heart in gold, in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
A century later filigree definitively became the symbol of Portuguese goldsmithery, with the main production centers in Porto, Gondomar and Póvoa de Lanhoso.
A tradition that became the Joalharia do Carmo’s trademark. The store opened in 1926 after being bought by Porto’s goldsmith Alfredo Pinto da Cunha (it used to belong to Raul Pereira, who would have a goldsmith shop there with his name).
An art that is being lost?
The jewelry store opened with an Art Noveau-style facade designed by Norte Júnior, the architect who has won the most Valmor awards to date, and remained in the family until 2020 – when it passed to the Valor do Tempo Group.
And it once again has filigree as the protagonist.
“Now, we want to give stage to the 22 craftsmen represented here”, says Bárbara Sousa, responsible for Carmo’s jewelry.
Many believe that filigree is a forgotten art, that is slowly being lost. This is because it is a work passed on from parents to children, and the younger generations seem lost to the cause.
It runs in the family of Olga and Inês. But the art hasn´t stoped here. Inês daughters have followed the paths of their mother: they are already the 6th generation of goldsmiths in the family.
And then there is Arlindo Moura, the youngest artisan in Carmo’s Jewelry Shop. He is only 35 years old and is already a trainer in the main jewelry school in Portugal, the CINDOR.
He learned the craft with his family: the 6th generation of goldsmiths. “I usually say that I wasn’t born in a cradle of gold, but I learned to walk inside the workshop,” he tells us with great pride. He recognizes that there are fewer craftsmen than in the old days, but there are still those who have a great passion for jewelry, like him.
A passion that, in the new generations, may even gain new ways. “We associate filigree with the emblematic heart of Viana,” says Bárbara Sousa. “But nowadays artisans already work the technique in a more modernized way, adapting the pieces to the contemporary lifestyle.”
And there are those who see in filigree a possibility for a more conceptual art. This is exactly how Eugénia Seixas, the only artisan from Ovar, sees her pieces.
Unlike most, no one in her family made filigree, but when she started working in design, her interest grew and she ended up using the filigree technique, creating contemporary and even sustainable jewelry.
These new ways of looking at tradition can be controversial. But Olga Bandeira, one of the oldest fillers likes it. “I think it’s good to do the filigree in new ways,” she says, still standing around her pieces, never letting the noise of celebration interrupt her work.
It is her resisting hands, tradition is not lost. Very much to the contrary. And now its honored in rua do Carmo, Lisbon.
*translation support by Fabliha Maliha, a partnership with www.newlocals.org
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