Ataujia - Damascene jewelry

 Jose Manuel, Paloma and their son

Jose Manuel, Paloma and Spanish Blossom ladies, September 2017


 

 

Ataujia is a family run business, led by Jose Antonio, a third generation Damascene artisan, and his wife Paloma.

In their beautiful shop in the old city in Toledo, Spain you can find Damascene treasures, from jewelry pieces to intricately elaborated plates. You can always find Jose Antonio in the back of the store working his magic on special pieces that later will populate the store shelves.

The damascene technique has been known and widely used since Egyptian or Roman times, however it is in the city of Toledo, Spain that the decorative technique has reached its maximum point in intricacy and development of designs.

Damascene (also known in Spain as “ataujia”, hence the name of Paloma and Jose Antonio's shop) has not only been used in sword decorations, but also in dishes, jewelry, and nowadays in the most diverse group of souvenirs for the thousands of tourists that flood the city of Toledo. The name of the technique comes from the city of Damascus, and was originally brought to Toledo by Muslims. In the XIX century it has experienced a comeback of popularity.

 The genuine Damascene process includes the following steps:

  • The surface of the piece is scratched, to remove the smooth surface so the gold can be attached. This is made not only by scratching the surface with an engraver’s chisel, but also with an acid bath.
  •  The gold or silver thread or sheets are encrusted in the surface, creating figures and patterns.
  • A small hammer and chisel are manually used to affix  the thread or sheets on the surface.
  • During this process, the steel piece is blued, therefore the steel cannot oxidize. In order to accomplish oxidization, the piece is heated in a fire with a solution of caustic soda and potassium nitrate. The blued steel then turns black, however the gold or silver remain unchanged.
  • The piece is then retouched, by giving it some relief using the hammer and chisel again to move the golden surface.

This is a very delicate and time consuming technique.  Buyers and tourist do not always recognize the amount of work it takes to make one single piece, therefore the artisanship of damascene is not always appreciated at the level it should be.  

The difference between a good artisan handmade damascene piece, and a “touristic” industrial damascene object is the following: in the lower quality pieces, the gold used is inferior in quality, so the piece becomes quickly oxidized. Moreover, these lower quality damascene pieces are not handmade, but with a machine, so by the time an artisan has made one, the machine has produced hundreds of them.

Handmade damascene pieces are a lost art, which is what makes the pieces Spanish Blossom carries treasures.

So, how you can detect if a damascene piece is good or bad? Typically handmade pieces have more thread work than the ones machined. The best thing to do is to check the fine details: if you can see the “pulse” of the artisan's chisel in each of the strokes, you have a handmade piece.

In our boutique, we bring you the craftsmanship of Jose Manuel, who was taught damascene artistry from his father.  Jose designs, constructs and polishes beautiful unique pieces of art that can be yours.

 

Check out their collection here