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A guide to Portuguese jewellery


Filigree’s intricately woven strands have characterised Portuguese jewellery for centuries. Now the country’s emerging design talents are adding a contemporary twist to traditional designs, says Ruairidh Pritchard

Ruairidh Pritchard
Ruairidh Pritchard ,

For centuries the Portuguese jewellery scene has been dominated by traditional, delicate filigree jewellery, crafted from fine strands of precious metals woven together to create ornate, elaborate motifs. However in recent years the country has seen something of a jewellery revolution, with younger designers creating bolder, more contemporary and innovative designs.

The ancient art of filigree, ‘filigrana’ in Portuguese, predates the Roman period, making it one of the oldest jewellery-making techniques on record. Believed to have originated in Asia, filigree found its way across the continents and became extremely popular in 12th-century Portugal. Once it had made its way into western Europe, filigree was combined with the typical styles of the times to create gold and silver metalwork, often rich in religious iconography, and presented as gifts to the nobility.

The country’s love of filigree continued throughout the centuries and Portuguese jewellery’s fine, intricate designs became one of the best examples of the technique. However in recent years, designers have begun to create bolder, more contemporary and innovative designs which, while still finding inspiration in the country’s rich jewellery heritage, are redefining the concept and image of Portuguese jewellery.

Telma Mota is one such designer, creating pieces by hand in her workshop in the small town of Fafe, in the north of the country, where she’s influenced by her surroundings and her country’s long history of creating beautiful jewellery. ‘My designs are inspired by the Portuguese people, by the female imagination and, of course, by the ancient crochet techniques I use to shape my designs,’ she says. It’s clear to see that Mota is inspired by filigree, but she adds her own distinctly contemporary twist.

Pendants, earrings and necklaces are all crafted by crocheting fine gold and silver strands into intertwining circular designs, some of which incorporate gemstones that evoke flowers. ‘There are increasingly good jewellery designers in Portugal, young designers who are launching contemporary jewellery brands using all the knowledge and heritage of traditional Portuguese jewellery to create current, refreshing and very original pieces,’ observes Mota.

Another young designer, Lia Gonçalves, echoes Mota’s sentiments about the new guard of Portuguese jewellery designers. ‘Portuguese jewellery is rich in master jewellers who learned their craft from previous generations, creating pieces with a strong historical and artistic heritage. However, in recent years we’ve seen several young designers who have created their own brands, reinterpreting traditional forms and creating new concepts, with a twist of new design and innovation,’ she says.

Gonçalves herself is a perfect example. When she started her own brand in 2010, she was looking to combine contemporary design with traditional techniques. The result is a collection of beautiful, minimalist jewellery with strong geometric themes, counterbalanced by clear natural influences. ‘I’m always looking for simplicity and functionality, basing my work in usable shapes,’ explains Gonçalves. ‘In my first collections, for instance, I was inspired by the cosmos, recreating the beauty of celestial bodies; however my great inspiration always comes from the relationship between the concept and the jewellery-making process, because, most often, it is during this process that the piece acquires the final form.’

Nature is certainly one of the strongest influences among the new wave of contemporary Portuguese jewellery designers. Porto-based Leonor Soares Carneiro, also cites it. ‘I find inspiration mostly in nature and the human body, but also in the tradition of Mediterranean culture, aiming to explore new shapes and visual lightness,’ she says.

Soares Carneiro’s collections feature creations which echo ancient filigree jewellery, such as intricate earrings and rings crafted from fine silver strands. Alongside these, she makes more contemporary statement pieces such as the Petals series of rings and earrings which, as the name suggests, features layered gold petals. ‘In my collections you will find some pieces playing with the senses, introducing variable elements, either familiar or exotic, not only allowing customisation, but also ensuring the individuality of the piece.’

From ancient filigree jewellery and the natural environment around them to their country’s own creative spirit, the new wave of Portuguese jewellers enjoys rich local sources of inspiration to draw upon.

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