The colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia is proud of its little-known but centuries-old tradition of filigree – a delicate jewellery metalwork made with tiny twisted threads.
The process of filigree starts in the early morning hours in a stream outside the town where gold miners wash the earth in search for the precious metal. “It’s a tough job but it’s our tradition,” miner Ruben Lopez, who works under the 40 degree hot sun every day, told Colombia Reports.
Today Lopez is successful– he finds a thumbnail-sized amount of gold dust which he will sell for around $35. Before he packs his finding, he dries the gold with fire. The miners in Santa Fe de Antioquia do not use chemicals to extract the gold, but an inherited ancestral artisanal mining technique that ensures the sustainable use of natural resources, called green gold.
Every Friday the miners sell their goods to one of the seven local goldsmiths who transform the dust into precious rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Filigree is a dying art that is not taught in schools and is only used in four towns across Colombia. Knowledge gets passed on from generation to generation. “More than a business this is a tradition,” said Hildebrando Rivera, owner of jewellery shop Joyeria Colonial.
Rivera weighs, classifies and melts the gold to create thin gold threads with special artisanal machinery. Everything is done by hand. Once the gold is processed, Rivera’s brother Carlos forms the gold threads into jewellery. It requires much concentration and patience as some designs, like a woven ball, can take up to a week to be designed.
Although Santa Fe de Antioquia has produced one of the finest and most unique gold jewelleries in Colombia for centuries, it has remained rather unknown among the town’s tourists. “It happens so often that tourists visit our shop and want to buy something but they didn’t bring enough money. We need to promote our art,” said Rivera’s wife Noema Layos.
Local guides for the filigree tour can be booked by telephone: 3105153938. The tour costs $12 per person.