Joe Calafato designed and manufactured silver jewellery, flatware and hollowware during the mid to late 20th century in a career spanning 37 years in Pretoria, South Africa.
His work made an important contribution to the development of a uniquely South African design domain and has become increasingly sought after at antique and collectible markets.
Of Sicilian parentage, Giuseppe Leonardo Calafato was born on the 10th of July 1912 in the then Lorenço Marques (now Maputo) Mozambique. In the 1920s the family moved to Johannesburg. Here he did his apprenticeship as a manufacturing jeweller under Jack Friedman – a well-known local jewellery manufacturer of his time.
During his career as independent creative silversmith, he made use of various maker’s marks. He started using the name ‘Candida’ as his first maker’s mark (1947-1972), after which he switched to a number of marks, namely ‘Carina, Velia, JC, Dawu and Joe Calafato’.
He sold his business in 1984 and, after a long battle with cancer of the esophagus, the South African ‘King of Silver’, Joe Calafato died in 1991 at the age of 79.
Calafato used mainly two processes for producing his jewellery. The ‘press method’ and a ‘die cast method’. Candida marks used during different time periods
The press method included the use of a weighted press on a flat bed of metal overlaying a die consisting of hardened steel. With this method the die sinker could produce fine detail such as relief and scroll work that gets chiselled from the steel die before it is hardened.
In the die cast method a rubber mould, wax, plaster of Paris and a centrifugal force to properly distribute the molten metal in the mould, were used. Chalices, cups and vases were hammered, hard cast as well as lathe spun.
THE LASTING APPEAL OF CANDIDA
Calafato’s jewelry designs consisted of individual pieces and any combination of bracelets, bangles, rings, brooches, pendants, necklaces and earrings. He worked mostly in sterling silver and copper.
He also made use of silver plate, some gold, platinum and enamel where he primarily used the cloisonné technique. Sometimes precious and semi-precious stones were also included in the compositions.
Demonstrating a professional standard of craftsmanship, his creations over the years displayed a fairly diverse range of styles – for example shifting from lyrical baroque designs to playful and romanticized human figures to minimalist abstract forms.
Especially the bold and chunky designs of some of the ensemble pieces are well known. Some brooches, pendants and earrings were designed with movable parts, allowing the pieces to echo the wearer’s movement.
Calafato did not only manufacture jewellery. Throughout his career, he diversified his output to include all kinds of metal artwork. He also specialised in enameled, badges, service awards, sporting spoons, reliquaries, shields, trophies, presentation keys and trowels as well as regalia (such as mayoral chains).
INFLUENCES AND THEMATIC CONTENT
Calafato mixed and redesigned patterns throughout his career. In the beginning, components such as scroll patterns, round balls, small smooth half drops as well as riffled hollow cups (possibly influenced by European trends) were often reconfigured and soldered together in different designs.
Later on, his inspirations shifted to African and wildlife images that were also recombined in different pieces of jewellery. His preferred medium was silver which was already well established as a popular jewellery base in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century.
Also, a number of the early Candida artifacts reflect the use of ‘cabochon’ cut (a rounded or oval cut with a flat base) semi-precious stones set in silver as well as the use of enameling which was introduced during this time.
EXAMPLES OF EARLY WORK DONE UNDER THE ‘CANDIDA’ MARK
African themes formed an important line in the Candida collection, and the attention that African art received from Europe during the Art Deco period (1920 -1939) resulted already then in African inspired designs manifesting in jewellery. Interestingly, the African compositions with the Candida and the later Velia, Carina and Dawu maker’s marks seem to be made only as separate brooches, pendants, bracelets and earrings but not in the form of necklaces or ensemble pieces.
Perhaps understandably, the dominant movement during the 1940s (recently differentiated as the ‘1940s retro’ style or ‘retro moderne’) appears to have played a significant inspirational role during the first phase of jewellery manufacturing. Typical of the time, stark geometric shapes were combined with swirling and draped forms: loops and tendrils of metal “ribbon” scrolls, pleats, folds and ruffles in large and dramatic pieces. Also, the hammered surfaces on some bon-bon dishes that were created in the 1950s reflect this period well. Early ‘Candida’ marked designs in which combinations of cups and leafs are combined with wirework.
During this time, international jewellery houses such as Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels began producing their versions of popular figurative motifs: animals, ballerinas and “novelty” figures such as clowns, scarecrows and flower-sellers. This line of inspiration was also expressed by a wide range of Candida figurines in the form of brooches.
Jewellery was increasingly seen as an art form in its own right, not just as a fashion accessory, with precious metals being used for their intrinsic beauty and not only for mounting gemstones.
In the midst of the proliferation of styles in the 1960s and 1970s, there was, however, also a trend towards the kind of “organic modernism” stimulated by Scandinavian designers with many designers striving for an economy of line and form. This trend can also be detected in some of the later designs under the Candida mark.
Joe Calafato possessed a unique combination of skills with which he contributed significantly to our South African cultural heritage.