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Azorean jewelry: innovate traditions and highlight handcraft

Back in the day, the Azorean artisans used what they could find on their own islands as raw materials. Nowadays, new designers and artisans are going back to their roots, reinventing old traditions and searching for new and different materials.

In jewelry, ceramic, glass, tapestry, fashion, and even in furniture, the Azorean creativity has no limits. The handcraft has been reinvented and, today, designers create innovative pieces from secular materials.

When Paulo Vale looked at the ground, he didn’t see just a path as others might. He saw what today is known as “Azorean Gold” – that, unlike conventional gold, is black, stony and sometimes porous, but also valuable.

Inspired by the rocks on the island where he was born, Vale creates beautiful pieces of jewelry, where the volcanic rock that emanates from the rift – commonly known as basalt – is combined with bright diamonds, gold and silver. 

The addition of precious metals to this dark rock results in a very interesting contrast of colors, brightness and texture. At the same time, Vale’s talent can result in the most modern and bold pieces, but also in contemporary and casual accessories.

The “Azorean Gold” works not only as a fashion accessory, but also as a symbolic element, like a talisman, because it is a bit of his motherland. In this particular context, this geological material takes on an almost mythic value: there’s a little bit of the Azores and Portugal in there. And this was a strong argument to offer one of his necklaces to Queen Rania of Jordan in one of her visits.

This creative way of looking around is not something new in the Azores. There are fish scale artisans with unlimited creativity, handicraft precision, patient and sensibility. 

After being washed, selected and cut out with a little scissor, the fish scale is reborn in the shape of flowers, which are grouped into branches and adorned with silver thread and little pearls. This is a calling card of the Azorean crafts. 

The Caetanas, two Azorean sisters, decided to explore this ancestral craft in a contemporary way and applied it to jewelry. With a mystic feeling, and a personal perspective, the Caetanas create flowery compositions in the form of earrings, necklaces and other fish scale accessories.

Scrimshaw is also considered an Azorean symbol and a whaling heritage – a vital activity to these islands’ economy during centuries. There are not many artisans left, but those who continue to do it claim to be working according to the old techniques.

This type of handcraft was born in the New England’s whaleboats to occupy the whalers during leisure time. It uses the only part of the whales that are not used by industry: teeth and bones. After polished, the pattern is done with knives or stilettos and then filled with ink.

Nowadays, the artisans choose to produce small jewelry pieces, such as earrings and fineries, to save the material and to sell more. A whale tooth with scrimshaw costs around $9,000. But simple earrings cost just $50.

Due to the Azores isolated location, through the years artisans looked into nature to find their raw material. Traveling between these nine islands, you will find handcraft made of wood, clay, basalt, fish scales, bones and whale teeth, fig pith, hydrangeas and corn husk.

The unique bond between the Azores and nature has inspired the Azorean craft during centuries.  Lately, the new artisans and designers have been able to innovate traditions and highlight Azorean craft and artistry.


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Susan Trubey

I love the way the items combine native materials and traditional crafts with contemporary design.

Maureen King

I am looking for a bead to fit my Pandora bracelet that is made out of lava rock

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