Gold may be getting the headlines these days, but sterling silver continues to be a shining success.
In Benguet, silversmithing is a large industry, next to vegetable farming. The province is also evolving as the center for home-based jewelry manufacture with customers coming from all over the world.
Sterling silver here is handmade by silversmiths who over the generations have perfected their skills in creating sterling-silver masterpieces, ranging from necklaces, pendants, brooches, bracelets, earrings, rings and other accessories. They create superb handmade silver crafts that are made as wearable art forms.
Engaged in the business since 1974, Evelyn Ibay, owner of the famous Ibay’s Silvershop in Baguio City, said they have succeeded in bringing international attention to their extraordinary handmade sterling silver products.
“Nowadays, silver has become the new popular jewelry standard,” she told the BusinessMirror. “Before, clients, especially Filipinos, would mainly buy jewelry featuring gold chains, gold rings and bracelets. Only the foreigners are fond of silver jewelry during the ’70s through the late ’80s. But now more and more Filipinos are buying and wearing them.”
Ibay’s Silver Shop, with 28 branches now in Luzon, is considered one of Baguio’s tourist destinations for handmade silver crafts. For many years it was awarded by the city government of Baguio as The Most Tourism-Oriented Shop, Highest Selling Product Award and The Top Seller Award, among other awards.
But behind those awards are the long struggles that they have to go through.
Ibay started the home-based silver jewelry business in 1974 with a measly P5,000 investment borrowed from her sister. She recalled that her husband, Avelino, a silversmith, patiently produce beautiful silver works day and night to deliver them to silver shops in Baguio and Manila. Eventually in 1983, they opened their own small stall at the foot of the Lourdes Grotto in Baguio City to cater to local and foreign tourists.
Along with other small silver entrepreneurs, they began their silver work for the export market in countries like Japan, the US and Europe. As their production increased, their income also increased a handful of times.
As international demand for silver jewelry grew, production capacity necessarily had to grow with it, Ibay explains. Casting machinery was made available in the market, and soon began replacing handcrafted processes at many jewelry workshops, offering the advantages of faster and more uniform production.
But she and her husband had to keep up with the competition so they hired more silversmiths who were willing to continue working with their hands.
“Handcrafted 92.5-percent silver jewelry continues to have a greater value than machine-made jewelry and, for me, art made by machines will never equal art made by hand,” Ibay, a mother of four successful professionals, explained.
Ibay explained that from the process of molding and waxing silver to the burning and casting to the finishing and polishing, handmade silver works are more artistic, durable and distinctively marked by the creations of their forefathers.
An evolving market
In a sterling-silver business, one has to stay up to date on handmade jewelry trends and techniques, Ibay said, adding she has attended exhibits and trainings here and abroad to increase her knowledge, skills and business acumen as an entrepreneur.
One obstacle in this business, Ibay added, is the sprouting of “pirated silver jewelries” sold by individuals around the tourist spots here in Baguio. Some even imitate their designs and trademark.
With a view to growing their business while adjusting to the changes in the market—including the increasing price of silver, Ibay said they have to find ways to keep their business afloat.
“Especially for the last two years or so, our business has been affected by increases in the cost of silver,” she says. “We are aware that this price increase is the result of silver being used more and more in industries like cellular phones, computers and other electronic gadgets. These have somehow placed an increasing financial burden on our local handmade jewelry community so we have to find ways to keep up.”
Ibay said nowadays they buy the silver at about P27,000 a kilo, where it used to be P750 per kilo in 1974.
To their products moving, Ibay’s Silver Shop is now reinventing them by adding stones, affordable gems of high quality and other ornaments in their masterpieces.
A silver-lining future
Ibay and her family are among the many enterprising entrepreneurs who have discovered the benefits of direct sales through the Internet, and they are taking advantage of this new business venue with great success.
“Through our web site, we have buyers in other places in the country, as well as from abroad. We also receive regular invitations to jewelry conferences and events,” she said.
Looking to the future, Ibay says she will continue to invent exciting new handmade jewelry designs, and to fashion them out of the highest quality materials.
“This allows us to survive in today’s highly competitive market,” Ibay concludes. “In this business, I have also learned that you should not only rely on your own but to the Almighty God. You have to be humble and help others to succeed.”