The Artisan: renowned Buenos Aires silversmith Juan Carlos Pallarols

The Artisan: renowned Buenos Aires silversmith Juan Carlos Pallarols .

Chris Moss
uan Carlos Pallarols, 76, wields a jeweller’s hammer and graver with the deft assurance of someone who has forever been a craftsman. The job of orfebre – silversmith – is, as he says himself, a "noble office" anywhere. But in Argentina – named after the silver the conquistadores came to loot – it’s held in particularly high esteem. Pallarols used to work from his home, but moved in 1970 to a taller or studio in the historic central barrio of San Telmo.
Now serving as museum, shop and workshop, its walls are hung with antique mirrors, crucifixes, masks and tools. It looks cluttered but the wooden benches are tidy, with works in progress glowing under spotlights. The Pallarols dynasty has greater antiquity than the Argentine republic.

"We know there was a Vicente Pallarols working in Barcelona in 1750 – and perhaps before then,’ says Juan Carlos. "I’m the sixth generation of the Argentine line. I use the tools handed down by my great grandfather. I’ve been metalworking since I was three, when my grandfather taught me how to make toys out of silver or iron. For me, it was fun, it was playing."
He works mainly in top-grade silver from Argentina’s mines along the Andes, producing everything from gaucho knives and maté gourds to exquisite feathers and roses. Those last objects became popular following a special commission from the UK. "Nature is my main source of inspiration. When I was asked to do something for Princess Diana, I decided to do a rose. It got talked about all over the world and they became famous." Since 1983, when democracy returned to Argentina after the dark years of the military dictatorship, Pallarols has also been responsible for hand-carving the presidential baton.

Celebrity clients have included Bill Clinton and Sharon Stone. He has also made a chalice for Pope Francis. Commissions can take months to complete. He tells me about a pen that a wealthy German client commissioned: "he wanted the faces of his wife and children engraved into the piece, and that took a month and a half."