Though Buenos Aires is located on the Rio de la Plata, which translated means River of Silver, one doesn't automatically associate Argentina with silver and silversmiths, but in colonial times silver from Peru and Bolivia was embarked from the port of Buenos Aires for transport to Spain.
In the past, gauchos profusely decorated their weapons, whips, belts and saddles/reins with silver and/or gold, both as a status symbol and as a means of carrying their savings around with them during their nomadic lives. The gaucho's glittering apparel was paraded during religious holidays or other festivities. Even today, a special occasion will still find gauchos in full regalia.
At present, there are several excellent silversmiths in the city and surroundings, and a visit to their workshops is well worth the time. Combine the visit with a very special wine-tasting.Drink from hand-tooled silver and gold goblets and crystal glasses and, guided by a sommelier, compare the effects of the metal on the wine, while you chat to the master as he works on his next piece.
The most well-known master is probably Juan Carlos Pallarols, a sixth generation silversmith, who produces hand-crafted goblets, candlesticks, and dozens of other pieces in his San Telmo forge, which is filled with his personal collection of colonial furniture and silver objects. His works include pieces for King Juan Carlos of Spain and President Francois Mitterrand, the staff of office for several Argentine Presidents, and a chalice for the Pope. At present he is designing the pinnacle evangelist statues for Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
You will be welcomed to the workshop to learn about this family's colorful history and the traditions of silver artistry dating back two centuries. Mr. Pallarols's work - exclusively in sterling silver - reflects both the curvaceous lines of the southern European tradition to which he was born and the imagery of his native South America. Aside from his colonial pieces, similar to 17th to early 19th century European models, many of Mr. Pallarols's more elaborate creations are in a style known as plateria criolla, or creole silverware.
During Marcelo Toledo's Metal Experience (also in San Telmo) visitors receive an explanation of the different processes that make up the creation of a piece, from the original sketches of the idea up to the fine metal-working. Visit the workshop where you will see the different steps of the process, admire his art sculptures in different metals, and visit the Evita exhibition at his private museum next door, where you can admire pieces inspired by this icon's jewelry and personal objects.
If you have time to go further afield, San Antonio de Areco, the "gaucho capital" of the Pampas, is famed for its silversmiths, and Juan Jose Draghi was the best in town. His intuition and his creative genius made him the new founder of traditional Argentine silverwork. Though Draghi sadly passed away at age 64 in 2008, his wife and his children continue his legacy with intact passion. The small museum adjoining Draghi's workshop showcases a priceless collection of works that show the evolution of silversmith styles from the 19th century until today, reconstructing great part of this noble trade's history.
Draghi's works are decorated with the indigenous designs as the thistle flower and rhea feather, or with the traditional symbols of eagles, angels, horses and hearts. The pieces on display are mostly gaucho-related: spurs, belt buckles, knives, stirrups, and the ubiquitous mates. Creole items include whips called fustas or rebenques, knives called facones and belts called rastras. Decorated with silver and sometimes old coins, these wonderful thick leather belts were worn by gauchos. Even the gaucho's horse was decked in silver. Its chapeado - halter, bridle, reins, stirrups, breastplates and saddle trimmings- were made of leather inlaid with silver, or both silver and gold.
In the workshop one can also admire the contemporary and signature style jewelry created by his son Patricio. Combine a visit to Draghi with a day at an estancia (ranch), watching modern day gauchos at work and enjoying a delicious asado (barbecue).
Note on the difference between sterling silver and alpaca silver:
Alpaca silver actually contains no silver, but is an alloy that imitates sterling silver, providing all the advantages of sterling silver without the extremely high cost. It has the advantage of being a hypoallergenic metal.
For further details, please contact Argentina Travel Partners (ATP DMC), Mrs Merina Begg at firstname.lastname@example.org