I’ve never been remotely interested in gold jewellery but a friend of mine who came to visit dragged me round every jeweller’s in Coimbra and in doing so, introduced me to some exquisite filigree pieces. I’m especially taken with the traditional curved hearts that are icons of Portugal.
I can’t see myself ever wearing them as a pendant or earrings but they’re delicate and beautiful and worthy of admiration, in my opinion. Although the Portuguese have a history of overdoing it somewhat.
This video shows a team of Portuguese goldsmiths making gold filigree jewellery from scratch, with a soundtrack of traditional Portugese guitar music as an added bonus. The picture quality improves once it gets started and you’ll see some fine examples of their work, better than the photo above.
If you’re visiting Porto and want to see filigree-making in action for yourself, you could stop by O Cântaro, a souvenir shop near the river that specialises in traditional Portuguese handicrafts.
Portuguese gold is quality stuff
My jewellery-loving friend also raved about the quality of Portuguese gold compared to that of the rest of Europe and especially the UK.
It turns out that she’s right about that. Pure gold is too soft to work with so jewellery is made using a blend of metals which affect not only the colour but the hardness of the gold. Most gold that’s sold in Europe is 18 karat, which means it’s 75% gold and 25% other metals. Portuguese gold, on the other hand, is 19.2 karat, or 80% gold.
Personalised wedding rings
With this in mind, Mike and I decided to buy our wedding rings in Coimbra and were introduced to a lovely Portuguese tradition. The jeweller had our rings engraved with the name of our future spouse and the date of the wedding. Now there’s no excuse to forget our anniversary!
A sign of the times – cash for gold
Sadly, though, not all Portuguese gold jewellery is for keeps. With the country in dire straits and unable to tap into it’s mega gold reserves because of various legal restrictions, many people are feeling the pinch. Over recent years, I’ve noticed that the main boom business these days seems to be buying second hand gold.
Thankfully for those needing to sell, it’s no longer necessary to deal with dodgy looking characters who lurk downtown and approach people in the street offering to buy their unwanted jewellery. Nowadays, almost every street in town centres has at least one new shop, usually plastered with black and yellow signs, calling people to sell their gold. With other shops forced to close down, there are plenty of places to set up a gold trading business.
And in the swish, modern shopping malls, having to part with family heirlooms to pay your rent can be handled by friendly young women in suits and smiles, giving it the illusion of a simple, everyday transaction. I’m sure that however much you dress it up, parting with the family jewels out of necessity has got to hurt. Especially if it’s one of the beautiful filigree pieces.
This article is part of my Personal A to Z of Portugal.