Silver Legacies: The Making of Croatian Filigree Jewelry

silver-filigree-jewelry-split-croatia-how-to-make-earrings

Master filigree jeweler Viktor Čivljak has a gentle and humble manner despite regularly wielding blow torches and hammers in his making of Old World jewelry. It turns out that the 73-year-old Split, Croatia jeweler also has a penchant for survival, something that we would learn while spending a Saturday afternoon with him, watching step-by-step how to make a pair of intricate filigree silver earrings.

Viktor and his wife, Flora, along with son Lorenc, who is working to become the family’s fourth-generation jeweler, sell their tiny traditional silver treasures in an intimate shop, Filigran Split, located just outside of the 1,700-year-old walls of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace.

Croatia has no trade school for learning the art of making filigree jewelry and in order to become a filigree artist, one must apprentice. Typically family members carry on the jewelry-making tradition, or one approaches a master to request that he take him on as a student. Viktor’s grandfather, Josip, was the first in the family to learn the art, then came father Lorenc, and then Viktor, who began shadowing with his father at the age of 13.

In a market where industrial-scale molding is being used to mass produce the majority of the world’s silver filigree jewelry, the Čivljak’s family-owned establishment offers customers the chance to purchase entirely handmade traditional Croatian souvenirs and unique family heirlooms. It is said that he is the only jeweler in Split who crafts his pieces solely by hand.

From rings, pendants, and brooches, to scarf and hair pins, bracelets and cuff-links, Viktor even makes decorative silver spoons to welcome a new baby into the family or commemorate a visit to the beautiful city of seaside Split. At the request of a customer, he’ll even incorporate coral, pearls, jade, turquoise or onyx into a jewelry’s lacy design.

Though jewelry-making and shopkeeping in a scenic tourist town like Split might sound idyllic, things weren’t always so for the Čivljaks. Six years ago, a burglary nearly bankrupted the family-owned shop, where Viktor’s been making masterpieces out of silver since the 1980s.

“The man who broke in stole all of Viktor’s best pieces – representing tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of his work,” family friend and translator Tamara explained to us during our visit. “For a while, the family considered closing the shop, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, they survived.”

Despite the recession, the couple continues to exemplify a survival spirit, thanks to regular customers and strolling tourists that serendipitously happen upon their shop. They are also commissioned to make traditional jewelry and more contemporary versions of historic items. Each year, Viktor and Flora are asked to make buttons and cuff-links for participants in Croatia’s well-known Alka ceremony, an event that is held annually in the town of Sinj to commemorate a victory over the Ottomans. The high-profile event, which the Croatian president and other dignitaries regularly attend, has taken place since the early 18th Century. Viktor and Flora have also noticed that young Croatian couples are reviving traditional motifs and modifying them for more contemporary use.

“Some grooms are now wearing a toka button in place of a tie during their wedding ceremonies,” Flora noted, while pointing to an array of the filigree balls that are considered to be classics in Dalmatia.

When I asked the couple what they most enjoy about their jewelry business, Viktor wasted no time in responding.

“Pure creation. I love the creative process,” he said in his soft-spoken voice.

Chiming in, Flora playfully added, “And I am the advisor. Viktor consults with me as he’s making a piece of jewelry.” Indeed we noticed this partnership, particularly when Viktor was juggling several tools and needed a helping hand to lightly tap pieces into place.

For four hours that Saturday, we’d watch as Viktor’s hands carefully twirled, wove and soldered silver wires, at times sprinkling a fairy dust-like powder on them. And over the course of the afternoon, he’d transform the delicate silver thread into a stunning pair of earrings – demonstrating perfection that can only be achieved through decades of practice. By the day’s end he proudly displayed a glimmering pair of earrings in his open palms, a look of satisfaction on his face, and a twinkle in his eye at our display of wonderment. Filigree jewelry will simply never look the same anymore.

Split Croatia Master Jeweler Filigree Viktor

Jeweler Viktor Čivljak and his wife, Flora, stand in front of their jewelry shop, located just outside of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia. From delicate bracelets (left), to earrings, pendants and brooches, Viktor has been creating masterpieces out of silver for the past 60 years. He started learning the trade from his father when he was just 13 years old. He still uses some of his father’s tools.

Master Jeweler Filigree Viktor Split Croatia

Every village in Croatia’s Dalmatia region incorporates its own style into its silver filigree designs. On the left is a pendant in a traditional ball shape known as a ‘toka.’ On the right, Viktor works carefully to craft a pair of silver filigree earrings.

How to make silver filigree jewelery

Viktor bent a single wire of silver in several sections to create this component of the earrings. After soldering it, as he is here, he’ll then curve this piece into a flower-like shape.

Making Filigree Jewelry Split Croatia

In order to make one pair of earrings, Viktor needs to craft four of these ‘flower’ shapes. With one complete (left), he works on the remaining three.

Step by Step Silver Filigree Jewelry

Viktor twirls silver thread into a snail shell-like design. Once he’s made eight of these coils, he’ll place them into the ‘petals’ of the flower-like pieces that go into making the earrings. In all, he’ll need 32 coils for one pair of earrings.

Filigree Making Process Split Croatia Jeweler

Using a pair of tweezers, Viktor places the coils into the empty petals of the flower.

Master Jeweler Split Croatia

Filigree Making Process sprinkling binding agent

Viktor sprinkles a fairy dust-like mixture of sodium bicarbonate and silver dust over the four flower shapes before soldering them. This step helps to bind all the components in each shape together.

Filigree Making Process making earrings Split Croatia

How to make silver filigree jewelry Split Croatia 2

Now that the ‘flower’ has cooled, it’s time to gently tap it into a curved shape. To do that, Viktor will use this mold, a pestle-like object placed directly on top of the flower and a piece of wood to lightly tap the pestle, transforming the flat flower into one with curved edges.

How to make silver filigree jewelry Split Croatia

The flower, after it has been lightly tapped in this mold.

How to Make Filigree

Next, Viktor uses tweezers to add a rounded embellishment to the crown of the floral dome. On the right, he solders the two pieces together.

Silver Filigree Jewelery Split Croatia

On the left, a glowing silver bead. After it cools, Viktor will carefully add the bead adornment to the dome-shaped top. He’ll combine two of these ‘domes’, using twisted silver wire, to create an earring’s signature toka shape, and then repeat the process to create the second earring.

Making Filigree Jewelry Split Croatia

Having joined the two domes of the ball together, Viktor uses a magnifying glass to ensure the piece’s perfection.

Making Filigree Jewelry Split Croatia Earrings

The almost-complete earrings awaiting another round of soldering.

Filigree Making Toka Jewelry Soldering in Flame

The ball-shaped earrings undergo another dramatic soldering session.

Making Croatian Silver Filigree Jewelry

Viktor uses a fine-point blow torch to solder a loop on the earrings. The straight wires on the right will soon be curved into a hook shape, and attached to the balls to form the back of each earring.

Making Filigree Jewelry Split Croatia

After four hours of continuous work, Viktor displays the stunning result – a pair of intricate filigree earrings.

Filigran Split Jewelry Store Split Croatia

Knowing the attention to detail that went into making these stunning earrings, it seemed fitting that Flora would choose to package them in a heart-shaped jewelry box.

Filigree Jewelry Filigran Split Croatia

Flora walks me and the family’s friend, Tamara, through their display case. Here you can see just a sampling of the silver filigree rings, decorative spoons, and pendants that Viktor has designed. Flora explained that in centuries past, families were given spoons when a baby was born. Affluent families had gold spoons, and poorer ones had silver spoons.

Filigran Split Jewelry Store Split Croatia

As afternoon turns to evening, we bid farewell to the hard-working couple. We’d have the pleasure of seeing Viktor, Flora and Lorenc for weeks to come since our Split apartment was just around the corner from their jewelry shop. Whenever we passed by, we spied Viktor hard at work in the back workshop, with Flora waving in an animated fashion.

Planning Pointers:

  • Viktor and Flora’s shop, Filigran Split, is located at Bosanska 4 in Split, Croatia. It’s just a few seconds’ walk from Pjaca (Narodni Trg Square), and less than a minute from the Iron Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. As it is a small, family-owned business, Viktor and Flora only accept cash payments. In addition to speaking their native language, Croatian, the couple’s son Lorenc speaks English, and jeweler Viktor speaks German.
  • The price of Viktor’s jewelry varies based upon an item’s weight. Also, it is more challenging to craft smaller pieces of jewelry than larger ones.
  • You can also peruse a handful of Viktor’s creations on the Filigran Split Jewelry Facebook Page. We were wowed by the hundreds of custom designs that Viktor’s created in the last five decades. Ask him to see his portfolio. He’s also happy to custom-design work based on a customer’s sketch, but be sure to allow sufficient time when ordering.
  • We’ve spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link) which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork, and views of Old Town Split below. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, characterized by stone homes with hunter-green shutters. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed our tiny terrace and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

Where in the World?

Disclosure & Thanks:

We approached Filigran Split to request the opportunity to document the filigree-making process. As a touching and generous gesture, they presented me with the pair of earrings that Viktor made during this filming session. To say that I will cherish them would be an understatement. :)

Hvala / Special thanks to Flora and Viktor for welcoming us into the shop and for being so patient with all of our questions and photographs. At times, it must have felt as though the paparazzi was in your workshop. :) Also, many thanks  to Tamara, for translating, and Robert, for introducing us to Flora and Viktor.

Jewelry design © Viktor Čivljak, Filigran Split, Bosanska 4, Split, Croatia.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

30 Comments on “Silver Legacies: The Making of Croatian Filigree Jewelry

  1. I love filigree art. Thanks for sharing this, Tricia – I will store away the link and reblog soon after a series of articles currently on waiting list :) Love your work!

    • Ina, of course, you know I adore filigree now as well. :) Do you have any similar pieces to what Viktor made here? And thank you also for sharing this – I’m hoping the more it makes its way around the internet, the more customers who will be drawn to Viktor’s and Flora’s shop. Such a kind couple – and this is a piece of culture that’s worth preserving.

      • Of course, I have several items and purchased in Korcula. I must visit Viktor & Flora’s shop when I’m next in Split :D

      • I’m honored to have a pair now and feeling more and more Dalmatian as a result. :) So glad to hear you’ll stop by their shop, Ina. We’re hoping to return to Croatia in the autumn – perhaps our paths might cross then.

    • BinNotes, glad to introduce you to Viktor and his creations. On a side note, I see you’re also a fan of Burgundy – we visited there a few summers ago, and remember the golden afternoons fondly.

  2. How wonderful that you were able to so thoroughly document this artist’s work. I hope his family sees this and can save it. Great story and photos! Oh, and thank you for the follow – I appreciate it!! :-)

    • A pleasure to connect, Bluebrightly, and thank you for your kind words. Indeed, it was a special afternoon. We’re in touch with family friends of the jeweler, so I hope they’ve now seen the video. We showed them several images and a bit of video footage before we left Split, and they seemed delighted to see themselves on film. Such lovely people.

  3. The man is a magician and that toka is exquisite! It is heartwarming to see him continue his handicraft despite all the tough times he and his family have had. These are the sorts of souvenirs that really have meaning both to the buyer and to the one who sells.

    • Very true, Bespoke Traveler. With space limited in our luggage, I now try to be very selective about what I bring home from a place. Most of the time, the pictures I take fulfill the desire to bring home a souvenir, but Viktor’s jewelry was the exception. There are many memories tucked into those delicate earrings. All this said, I am a reformed souvenir shopper. In past years, I was guilty of bringing home a set of Moroccan shutters, among other trinkets. :-) What about you – do you tend to collect a certain type of souvenir when you travel?

      • Moroccan shutters?! Whoa! How on earth did you transport those? I am getting much more selective about souvenirs and embracing the “take memories (and digital photos) with you only” philosophy. As a child and young teen traveling though, I was a huge fan of postcards and local paper maps!

      • It was only one set of shutters, but dare I add that I also brought back an urn to be converted into a lamp?! At least the latter is practical. My first time in Marrakech, I remember meeting a woman who’d purchased a handmade copper sink. She brought it into the Sahara Desert for her trek there, eliciting jokes about “bringing everything, to include the kitchen sink.” :)

        I wish I’d embraced the philosophy sooner. In the past, I used to also bring home a cook book and a children’s book from each country I visited. Now, it’s mostly digital photographs and a silver charm for my bracelet…

      • Heheh. Much more fitted to be packed away in the overhead carrier! Not to mention I love the idea that you are carrying little tokens of all your travels with you on your wrist.

      • Atreyee, years ago, my fellow charm-hunting friend and I met a pair of older ladies in Brussels who’ve been friends for decades. Turns out that they ran out of bracelet space for their charms long ago and had to graduate to charm necklaces. I think that’d be a bit too much bling, so I’ll stick to adorning my wrist with the world’s skyline in miniature. :)

  4. How fascinating. I remember seeing much silver filigree when we visited the former Jugoslavia many years ago, even quite large pieces like lamp shades. I love buying jewellery when abroad. As well as being a lovely reminder of where a holiday was spent, it’s also easy to squeeze into a case that’s almost touching Ryanair’s or EasyJet’s baggage limit. And you can usually find something relatively inexpensive if you look. In Tallinn I bought an amber necklace which I love. Not one of the vastly expensive ones with huge chunks or beautifully polished pieces of amber, but one made of small chips which catch the light.

    • Dorothy, it’s funny you should mention the larger pieces because jeweler Viktor did mention that they sometimes make large filigree boats. Do you remember in which city that you saw the lamp shades made of filigree?

      Also, I relate to your penchant for purchasing jewelry during travels. I used to indulge in larger souvenir pieces (Moroccan shutters or dishes!), but now usually keep my eyes open for a small silver pendant for my charm bracelet. That’s now expanded into two travel-themed bracelets. :) When my mother and I visited Riga, Latvia and Vilnius, Lithuania we also fell in love with the amber pieces. They’re so beautiful when they catch the light.

    • Viktor surely does have talent, Carol. He made the process look effortless, but as his son Lorenc said, it could take decades to do filigree work as expertly as Viktor does.

    • Carol, absolutely. It’s ironic that across the street from Viktor’s shop is one with what appears to be mass-produced jewelry. It’s my hope that visitors strolling this city’s streets will know how much care and talent went into making Viktor’s pieces. Wish you a lovely weekend ahead, and thank you for dropping by. :)

  5. I purchased a beautiful pair of round filigree earrings and lost one just today? Is there a place to purchase these online or in the U.S. As I don’t see a return trip to Croatia anytime soon. Thanks. Diana

    • Diana, sorry to hear of your loss of a treasured souvenir. When we met jeweler Viktor and his wife Flora earlier this year, I do recall their family friend, Tamara, mentioning an Etsy shop where you can do purchases online. When I checked that site, I see the Etsy store is closed at the moment, though: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/filigransplit

      I just saw your email too. Via email, I’ll give you the contact details I have for their English-speaking family friend Tamara who manages the shop’s social media accounts. Since you said you have a picture of the remaining earring, I have a feeling jeweler Viktor might be able to recreate a pair for you.

      Good luck!

  6. Pingback: The Road Trip to Montenegro. Day 4 | The Lonely Traveler

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