Baguio’s silver craft still a thriving industry

BAGUIO CITY— This city’s silver-based products are still among the favorite souvenir items of local residents and tourists as they last a lifetime.

Precy Marcelo, owner of Pilak Silvercraft and Gift Shop, told the Philippine News Agebcy over the weekend that Baguio’s silver craft industry remains to have a market with foreign and local tourists who flock to the city, particularly those who are fond of white-colored jewelry and handcrafted gift items.

More than a century ago, Baguio was developed by the Americans by constructing roads to support the mining companies they set up in Benguet. The opening of mining firms started the city’s association with gold and silver starting in the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

The St. Louis Center Silver Shop owned by the Catholic missionaries was the very first to go into the business.

In 1977, Precy and her husband opened the Pilak Silvercraft and Gift Shop at Mines View Park. She said most of their early buyers were Belgians, Europeans, Americans and Japanese. There were also some Chinese, Canadians and other nationalities.

She said former First Lady Imelda Marcos helped promote Baguio’s products including the silver craft industry, thus, they gained international market.

“The business was good then especially with former First Lady Imelda Marcos who helped market the local products to the foreign countries through the National Cottage Industry Development Authority (NACIDA) which was under the management of the Ministry of Industry,” she added.

Precy said during those early years, the Mitsukoshi International department store chain with headquarters in Tokyo and Kurumi Japan were their biggest buyers.

She said some foreign buyers preferred conservative jewelry designs, while some liked the filigree or the more intricate and fancy designs.

The popularity of faith healer Tony Agpaoa in the 1960s also helped increase their sales, according to Precy, as there were many foreign tourists going to Baguio.

With the robust sales continuing in 1980, Precy opened small shops in major hotels in Baguio and even in Metro Manila to include the then Manila International Airport, until such time the drop in silver craft sales started.

She said her family now only operates two shops — one on their property fronting the former Imelda Park now Botanical Garden, and at Mines View Park.

Precy said through the years, they have continued to sell jewelry carrying their early classic designs which have withstood the test of time because of their antique-like qualities. These are still a favorite among buyers, she said.

She, however, added that they also innovate, adopt, revise and enhance designs and follow the new fashion trends.

Precy added that one of the problems they encounter nowadays is the selling of fake silver jewelry at cheap prices by some “enterprising” persons at the city’s parks.

She said their business continues to thrive as there are “intelligent” buyers who know how to distinguish fake silver from the authentic and pure and that their products are covered by a warranty.

Aside from Pilak, there are many other stores selling silver craft at the Maharlika livelihood center near the market in Baguio.

Precy said the mining industry in Baguio and Benguet makes them continue with the  business. Where there is gold, there is silver, she said.

Silver is normally produced as a by-product (secondary produce) from gold or copper refining. Through the process of smelting, silver is separated from the copper or gold, thus, while mining exists, Baguio’s silver craft stays and thrives.