The Art of Peruvian Jewellery-Making

Ingenuity in design and exceptional quality of materials are the hallmarks of Peruvian jewellery.  As heirs to an unbroken tradition extending back to pre-Hispanic times, Peruvian silversmiths have been forging exquisite pieces known around the world for their beauty and unparalleled craftsmanship. Elegant in form and unique in style, this jewellery exemplifies rich historical and cultural traditions.

Known as the cradle of the Incan Empire, Peru’s exceptional, time-honored techniques of jewellery-making continue to thrive.  During the 1960s, the country experienced a revival of traditional silversmithing and today skilled artisans craft a diverse array of inimitable silver jewellery infused with the cultural influences of the country’s many ethnic groups.  

 

Making the Silver

The talented artisans working for the Fair Trade group Allpa work predominantly in 92.5% sterling silver, and tarnish-resistant alpaca metal – an alloy of nickel, zinc, and copper. 

In the silver production process, raw ore is first purchased from a Peruvian mine, melted in a furnace, and cast with a portion of copper. This molten liquid is then poured into flat moulds and cooled. Next, the silver is either laminated using a hand-turned machine to roll out different thicknesses or extruded to create thin threads and then passed through a die to give the thread a rounded form.  Using tin shears and scroll saws, the silver is cut and fashioned into a myriad of designs using techniques such as embossing, stamping, wedging, and forging.

To create the jewellery’s compelling textures, artisans use a variety of techniques:

  • Hammering using a blunt nail and hammer
  • Burnishing to make the material slick and bright
  • Sanding to create a perfect finish
  • Aging using a chisel to make dark grooves
  • Gold Bathing - submerging the piece in an acidic/gold mixture using an electrolytic process
  • Satin Finishing - using a miller’s tool with interchangeable cutting edges

Finally, each piece is sanded, polished, burnished, and brightened.

 

Semi-Precious and Serpentine

To complement their silverwork, Peruvian craftsmen have for centuries been creating fine inlay from materials such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, black onyx, tagua nut and spondylus shell. In the mosaic work of the ancient Huari, Moche, Chimu, and Lambayeque cultures, these materials were first cut, then carved into complex figures representing mythological characters, animals, suns and plants, and finally embedded in gold, silver, wood, shell, stone and bone.  These traditions continue to manifest themselves in contemporary jewellery-making techniques.