A couple of decades ago, there were not many jewelry stores. There were no jewelry chains, and each jeweler offered unique designs. Today, more stores are outdoing each other in offers that do not differ much from each other. This is one of the reasons why more and more people appreciate what is unique and handcrafted. Handmade jewelry is a guarantee of personalization, and Macedonian filigree is an excellent example of what is one of its kind. I asked my mentor and friend, jewelry maker, and filigree artist Jakov Gulija what the secrets behind creating stunning Macedonian jewelry are.
The best-known jewel of Macedonia is definitely lake Ohrid, but unfortunately, it is not a piece of jewelry that one can take home. Filigree, on the other hand, is. Macedonian filigree is the country’s trademark and art with a long tradition. Bitola, Ohrid, Struga, and Skopje are the cities where filigree is still doing well. In Skopje, while walking through the Stara Čaršija, a few streets are actually just jewelry stores. On the display window of the stores, you can see kilograms of silver and gold. You can find whatever you want, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, brooches, or accessories for hair. The vast majority of this jewelry is made with the filigree technique.
The word filigree derives from the Latin words “filum” (thread) and “granum” (grain). The elements made in this technique are tiny and intricately curled, and the delicate wires that are artistically formed often give an impression of being made with lace. The ancient practice of filigree evolved as artisans passed it from generation to generation, but as ages ago, the process requires patience, creativity, and precision. Jakov Gulija (32) is the third generation of jewelry makers and filigree artists in his family. Everything started from his grandfather, then his uncles learned the craft and passed it to Jakov and his cousin. Also, Jakov’s father was working with jewelry. Without a doubt, craftsmanship and talent run in their blood. When asked who his master is, Jakov says without hesitation that Josip, his uncle. “I can surely say that my uncle is one of the best in the business. Many people can confirm that. I learned from him. I am still learning and still can’t catch up with him.” adds Jakov.
Every jewelry maker can point out the “thing” that first called him to the art. In Jakov’s case, it was his family. Jakov was 22 when he started to create jewelry, but even as a kid, he always heard that it is a family business, so at some point, no matter how old he is, it would be great if he could continue the tradition. For a long time, he hesitated, but then one day he thought: “Why not? Let’s try and see what will happen.” Not long after his uncle showed him all the fundamental tricks (material melting, wire spinning, welding, and polishing), Jakov received his first task, preparing the brooch. “I couldn’t believe that I got my first piece of work. I asked my uncle to show me how to do it, where to start, and he took the paper, drew the brooch, and told me: It should be like this.” There is a smile on the face of my friend. He remembers that time as it was yesterday. “I will never forget when I made my first piece, and my uncle told me that now I know 90% of the job and the rest I will learn till I die”, says Jakov. Filigree is the kind of work in which you are upgrading yourself every day. The most significant part of the craftsman’s work is a talent or gift to be creative. One also should be an artist. Jakov always knew that he was an artist but never wanted to work as one – until that momentous day when he told himself that he should try. Of course, everything went well with his first assignment. After that, the real challenge appeared – a complete jewelry set – necklace, ring, earrings, and bracelet with flower motif. It wasn’t just any job. As it turned out later, his first order was for a man who teaches filigree, and it came out perfectly. Everyone was satisfied at the forefront of the craftsman himself.
Jakov has been in his profession for almost ten years. Jewelry making is his extra job, but he takes every minute of his free time to enjoy the art of jewelry creation. What do his customers order? Most of them want rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Some people call to ask about picture frames. Some people like traditional, old-school stuff, some are eccentric – they want modern combined with classic style, but somehow he manages to work it all out. In the hands of a craftsman, pieces of silver or gold can take any form. If the customer has something in his mind, Jakov prepares it. The customer comes first, so he always makes sure when the order should be ready. A complicated piece of jewelry will take an entire workday. He spends a couple of days, a week, or sometimes a month to finish the order. Some artworks take longer than others. It depends on how complicated and detailed the product is. “Filigree is an art. You can’t rush art, as well as you can’t rush the beauty.” Jakov says. If you did rush art, everything would not be as beautiful as it should be.
Filigree is part of the Macedonian identity and tradition passed down from generation to generation. There are not too many people in Macedonia who understand that kind of art as they prefer branded products with a logo of Gucci or Pandora. Still, more and more customers look for handmade and authentic jewelry. Some people say that the filigree technique will vanish with time, but Jakov and I like to think it will be as it is now, if not better. What gives jewelry makers satisfaction at their work? “Definitely look on customer’s face when they see the final product. Thank God they were never disappointed with my work. Some of them they are even amazed.” says Jakov. With this question, we end our conversation about filigree and jewelry. I have a hundred more questions because the creation of jewelry and filigree are fascinating topics, and I know that Jakov is willing to answer them all. Still, I also keep in mind that the number of words in my article is limited, so until next time!
DMWC: New Macedonian Filigree
Jakov Gulija, SilverGold Handmande Jewelry