Posted by: viewfromtheriva | January 19, 2014

Celebrating Split’s last filigree master


Viktor in his office

Viktor in his office

In a cramped back room lit by a single fluorescent bulb inside a tiny wooden-framed shop on Bosanska street, an ancient passageway just to the right of the west gate of Diocletian’s palace where it opens to the Pjaca, Viktor Civljask sits at his workbench making magic with his fingers. Surrounded by the simple tools of his trade, this 72 year old gentle master artisan has been  creating silver filigree for 59 years and is now the last filigree master in the city.

working his magic

working his magic

“There was a time, after the war and then again in the 80’s when people appreciated filigree and it was considered stylish to wear earrings and brooches, but now it’s all changed and it’s only local people and a few tourists who understand and appreciate what filigree is and means to our local and national history,” his son Lorenz tells me.  Although he is the fourth generation of Civljak artisans, “what my father can do in a few hours takes me all day….maybe in 20 years I will know 30% of what he knows.”

Lorenz was very camera shy but there is no way he is not going to be in this blog!

Lorenz was very camera shy but there is no way he is not going to be in this blog!

How ironic that just across the street from the family’s “Zlatar Filigran” shop (literally “gold and filigree”) is an enormous glass walled emporium of mass-produced jewelry from China, India, etc. that covers every inch of its walls from floor to ceiling.  The blinding display of thousands of shiny bracelets, earrings, rings and other costume jewelry is  so oddly mesmerizing that it’s no wonder a shop selling such cheap glitter can afford to the pay the enormous rent for such a huge space just outside the Palace. “The word filigree is derived from the Latin word filum (meaning thread). in ancient times it was part of the repertoire of skills of every jeweler.  Especially during Etruscan and Greek times.  The art of making filigree, consists in twisting fine wire tightly so that it creates a ridged pattern.

the first step in making filigree jewelry is cutting a  piece of silver wire and then wrapping it around a tool to create a particular size pattern that can be shaped into the final design

the first step in making filigree jewelry is cutting a piece of silver wire and then wrapping it around a tool to create a particular size pattern that can be shaped into the final design

Then this wire is twisted and formed into various circular harmonious shapes.  Then these wire shapes are soldered to each other to create a larger piece. starting the shaping process The filigree design can also be built upon to create multi-layered designs, such as flowers.  Often, a piece of metal or a wire frame is used to give substance to this delicate work.

The "pieces of the puzzle"  shows just how painstaking it is to make a single piece

The “pieces of the puzzle” shows just how painstaking it is to make a single piece

In ancient designs, granulation was often used to accent filigree designs.  This technique consists of soldering small beads of metal at intervals at which they will set of the wirework effectively.

after the flat piece has been created it needs to be gently hammered to create its curved shape

after the flat piece has been created it needs to be gently hammered into a mold to create a specifically-sized  curved shape

During the Etruscan and Roman period of the 6th to 3rd centuries BC, the art of filigree advanced to its highest level of perfection.  India also has a

removed from the mold, the piece is now ready for firing

removed from the mold

rich and fervent filigree tradition.  It is probable that here and in other parts of central Asia, jewelers were influenced by the Greeks that migrated East and settled in their midst.  For this reason, modern Indian jewelry, exhibits the same design patterns of those of ancient Greece!  An interesting fact.

after a dusting of binding agents to help the silver keep its integrity, it's ready to fire

after a dusting of binding agents to help the silver keep its integrity, it’s ready to fire

The filigree tradition was preserved through Medieval times, where it remains the jewelry standard in many countries.  One can still find workshops where this tradition continues, passed down through the generations by skilled artisans.  Medieval jewelers, often emulating the fire in the hole work of the Byzantine goldsmiths of Constantinople, embellished crosses, reliquaries and the covers of bibles with filigree.  These were enriched with precious stones, polished and enameled, creating a beautiful artifact.

after firing, the piece is cooled and ready for additional hand work

after firing, the piece is cooled and ready for additional hand work

During the Middle Ages, the art of making filigree was practiced also by the Moors of Spain with great skill.  They exported this craft to the New World, with their subsequent explorations.  Delicate and complex filigree jewelry is still made in modern day Spain”…..my thanks to Wikipedia for this informative description!

Each year, the Civljak's are asked to create pieces like these cufflinks, for knights who participate in the Sinjska Alka, a centuries old tradition of mounted horsemen in authentic 16thC costume who ride at full gallop with a lance and attempt to spear a an alka (Google it!)

Each year, the Civljak’s are asked to create pieces like these cuff links, for knights who participate in the Sinjska Alka, a centuries old tradition of mounted horsemen in authentic 16thC costume who ride at full gallop with a lance and attempt to spear an alka (Google it!)

There are just a few filigree masters still working in Dalmatia, four or five in Dubrovnik, a couple in Korcula and Trogir, but the craft is definitely in jeopardy.  I asked Lorenz how long it took to create a typical pair of earrings.

Earrings can be darkened using the flame of a candle or left white.

Earrings can be darkened using the flame of a candle or left white.

“My dad can do one pair a day, and that’s pretty fast,” he said.  Like all precious metal jewelry, the price depends largely on the weight.  The “design” cost is a tiny fraction added to the intrinsic value.  The earrings above cost between $40-100, which means that after almost 60 years of work, Viktor earns about $5 hr..  But the work he and his son do is priceless and they wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. Each region has its particular style and tradition of filigree.  Here in Split, for example, it is still a tradition in some households to give a silver spoon as a gift for a newborn.

The Civljaks put asmall medallion of Duje Cathedral at the top of the handle on some of the spoons

The Civljaks put a small medallion of Duje Cathedral at the top of the handle on some of the spoons if a customer wants it

Although they have their own “design book” and can make literally hundreds of different kinds of filigree jewelry, the Civljaks also do custom orders for people who want to take the old tradition to a new place. bracelets And on one of their walls, they also have a display of filigree that is more than 100 years old. After spending an hour or so with the family, learning about filigree and watching the step-by-step process I decided to do two things:  one, write this blog, and two, to help the Civljak’s by giving them some well-deserved free publicity in DiscoverSplit and together with a friend, some free marketing consulting to help make their bare bones shop more appealing with some photos and English language signs and fliers.  And my friend said she will do a facebook page!  See below! So if you live here, hey! now that you know about this place, go for a visit and buy something!  If you don’t, look closely at all these photos and tell me what you would like, I’ll find out what it costs and send it you. brooches In a world filled with plastic and high tech gadgets, there has to be room for something so beautiful made entirely by hand by people like Viktor and Lorenz.

OK, we work fast:       http://www.etsy.com/shop/FiligranSplit

–only one item, but we will have more!

And here’s their new facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/filigransplit

finally, enjoy our newly re-designed website:

http://www.sightseeingcroatia.com/home

 

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