Goldsmiths know how to shape the most creative pieces of jewelry, including gold or silver rings, bracelets and earrings. But as a result of industrialization and the consequent standardization, goldsmithery is a trade in decline.
“There are fewer and fewer artisans who make a living creating jewelry with precious metals. However, the trade is still alive, due to the need of those who like to wear [singular pieces of jewelry],” said Mario Licona Ortiz, a goldsmith who owns a jewelry store in Veracruz.
“Women like to wear rings, bracelets, earrings or a well-made chain with an exceptional and sometimes unique setting. We make our jewelry with 24, 18 and 14-karat gold and also use silver, but it is not as in demand as gold. However, if our customers need something special, we will gladly do it for them,” said the goldsmith.
The trade covers everything related to jewelry.
“We are also a repair shop,” Ortiz said. “Often, we receive rings without stones, or broken chains or bracelets, and we have to look for the best option to repair them. The customer is satisfied when these jewels look as if nothing had happened to them.”
Although they are commonly known as jewelers, goldsmiths actually are not.
Those who make a living designing and manufacturing jewelry are skilled craftsmen in the handling of precious metals. Like fashion designers, they can create bracelets, rings, earrings, chains, and pins using their knowledge and imagination.
Goldsmiths usually work by themselves. They set up their stores and sell their creations.
Goldsmithery is a complex trade. Making a new piece is a time-consuming process. First, goldsmiths design the piece and molds. Then they pour the molten metal into the mold for the work to acquire its shape. Finally, they use different artisanal techniques to give their pieces the desired finish.
They often mount precious stones, such as diamonds, rubies or gems, on the piece. They must fit precisely, especially in rings. Once the stones are in their place, the goldsmith secures them.
Sometimes, clients ask goldsmiths to write words, phrases or dates in certain pieces.
Among the various artisan techniques that Licona Ortiz knows are forging, hammering, cutting, welding, stamping, polishing and engraving. These techniques have been carried out for hundreds of years, often passed down from generation to generation.
In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church ordered special pieces, which today are considered true works of art because of their details.
In the New World, there were already goldsmiths during pre-Hispanic times. Many of them worked in gold or silver, which were abundant in the Americas. The Spaniards brought European artisan techniques with them — and the possibilities of the trade multiplied.
For centuries, goldsmiths put their knowledge at the service of the Church, which used highly ornamented sacred objects of precious metals. But the power of the Church declined and hundreds of years later, people still look for distinct pieces of jewelry.
“Usually, I like to buy some jewelry for my mother or wife. Jewels are unique gifts and, as women, they like to highlight their beauty,” said Esteban Laguna Suárez, an employee of a department store in Boca del Río, Veracruz.
“I invest between $50 and $100 for a ring or a pair of earrings, which are the most common things I have bought. They always like to wear their jewels in gatherings or special parties.”
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Fern Siegel)
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