• Edwin Charmain

FILIGREE | The Thread Of Life.

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

Having come back to Indonesia as a silver filigree jewellery designer and maker is not an easy job at all. Starting from the availability of tools, the supply of materials and jewellery findings that scattered across islands and remote villages to the market that predominantly dominated by diamond and gold commercial jewellery is just insane.

This month, as the jewellery designer and maker of Pusaka jewellery, I have a fantastic opportunity to do a month of another filigree making training, but this time with Borobudur Silver in the Special Region of Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia.


Before we proceed further, let's talk a bit about why The Special Region, and Why Borobudur Silver. Frazier, D. (2016) on his article for The new York Times "On Java, a Creative Explosion in an Ancient City" mention that.


"As the only Indonesian royal city still ruled by a monarchy, The Special Region of Yogyakarta is regarded as an important centre for Classical Javanese fine arts and culture such as ballet, batik textiles, drama, literature, music, poetry, silversmithing, visual arts and wayang puppetry."

In the Special Region of Yogyakarta, the centre for Silverwork and beautiful filigree jewellery production concentrated on the area called Kotagede, and not far from the district lies a silver shop named "Borobudur Silver".

Founded by Selly Sagita and her husband in 1989, Borobudur Silver has been producing exceptional quality 925 silver products using filigree, repoussé and chasing technique. The business run with the help of their daughter Lupita Saga now, and introducing a training programme called Borobudur Silver School as part of their galleries and showroom. I had an opportunity to meet and chat with both Lupita and Her mother when I visit the Special Region in June 2019. On behalf of Pusaka Team, I also had a chance to come to their showroom - galleries and see the silver school. From our conversation, we know that both Pusaka and Borobudur silver shares the same vision on safeguarding and innovate Indonesia traditional arts and crafts (Batik for us, and filigree for them). And we realise that if we want to make this happen, working together going to be essentials. On her book "Filigree Indonesia" Sagita. S (2008) said that "The art of filigree making in Indonesia has almost vanished, just like what already happened in many other jewellery making centres of the world." Reading this, I could not agree more, and I am afraid this phenomenon is not only happening on the jewellery but also other craft sectors like Batik, Paisley, Lacemaking especially with the raise of Industrialisation and creation of machinery like 3D printing. It's only been 4 days since I start my training, and during that 4 days time working together with 10 active craftsmen I have learned quite a lot. Starting from the name of each component and materials (which utterly different from what I know and learn during my postgraduate study in the UK) to the tools that they use in here for production.



Everything is made from scratch. Tooling is real in here, because you make your own tweezers by modifying the shape from surgical tweezers, Torch is still using vintage pump torch operated with your feet, silver wires and plates are made by melting scrap silver and granule before casting them in self made square mould. The casted silver then rolled using rolling mill to either flat them or reduce their size into long square wire.


To make the square wire useable you need to file the tip and run it into metal wire sizer which working by manually pulled each wire to reduce the size slowly from the biggest number till you reach the desirable sizes/numbers (150, 140, 130, 120, and so on). This couldn't be speed up because if you skip a number, your wire will either stuck or split with spiky rough surface. The whole process from melting the silver scrap to preparing the work material could took almost a day since you really make everything on your own from scratch.


Cleaning items are using Accu Zuur and Berry localy known as Lerak (Sapindus rarak), Borax come in the shape of Crystal which they know as "Pijar" (litterally translated as lights or to spark a lights in Indonesia) which needs to be processed by heating them on fire before it is ready to be used. Pliers are self made, and cutter are produced by modifying vintage foldable sewing scissors. Could you imagine the effort and time spend on making just one piece of jewellery ?!


the price of hard work is immeasurable, so the next time you buy a jewellery from artisan, instead of asking them to lower the price, why not asking them the making process ? that way you learn more about the story behind your jewellery and the makers got a renewed sense of pride on what they are doing, because once in their life time, someone is interested on knowing what part of their life is about.


For these filigree master-craftsmen the art of Filigree making and Filigree itself is not just a silver wire thread that being twisted together, it is a thread of life, a reflection of its maker heart, identity and skills that passed from generation to generation because this art is unique for the silver artisan from The Special Region.


Just like the other traditional crafts practice, Jewellery making in here is purely skills build from experience and knowledge, there is no easy way nor shortcut what so ever on creating a high quality jewellery object. that's why it is an art and skills that not only needs to be preserved, but also innovate and elevate in this global and competitive machine production era.


That's all for today !! stay tuned for more story, It's just my first 4 days. I have many more to come, and each day always brings new story.


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