It’s a man’s world – at least for metalsmith and Studio 925 owner Janina Arias.
Over the centuries, Filipinas have had the odds stacked against them. Confined to domestic roles, women have fought long and hard to break out of the “Maria Clara” mold imposed on them – meek, docile, and fragile as glass – and forge their own paths.
For Filipina metalsmiths, that much is true.
But in an inconspicuous studio tucked inside one of Makati’s archetypal concrete buildings is a space where seasoned and beginner women smiths converge to teach, learn, and do what brought them together in the first place: smith.
In a man’s world where the sight of a woman holding a hammer is unimaginable, Studio 925 taught women how to wield their hammers.
The girl who dreamed
Most people struggle to discover what they want to do when they grow up. Janina Arias isn’t “most people.”
Even as a kid, Arias already knew what she wanted to do – jewelry.
“It’s something I know how to do really well, and I’m comfortable with it,” she says, recalling how she used to bead pearls and make jewelry when she was a little girl.
But there’s more to her love for jewelry-making than afternoons spent playing around and experimenting with colorful beads, pearls, and strings.
Born into a family of jewelers, Arias is a fifth-generation smith. Her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandfather were all jewelers, and Arias spent her childhood in her family’s jewelry store.
What caught Arias’ attention wasn’t the colorful gemstones or the fancy jewelry that gleamed at her from their display cases. It was the studio where their store’s plateros – the metalsmiths – hammered sheets of metal and turned them into delicate pieces of jewelry.
It was in this studio where Arias first developed a penchant for smithing. Several years later, she would grow up to become the first smith in their family of jewelers.
Smithing – or metalsmithing – is the art of creating jewelry from metal by manipulating them through soldering, forging, texturing, and plenty of other processes. In the Philippines, smiths are often called plateros.
“I grew up observing their work. It was just really observation lang, just watching the work of our smiths,” says Arias.
As a kid, she knew she wanted to have a go at their plateros’ workbench. But despite her seemingly easy access to learning the craft because of their family trade, it was exactly that same reason which kept her from trying it out – their plateros wouldn’t teach her because they were cautious about her safety and scared of getting reprimanded.
“Anak din ako ng boss, so it was difficult also to learn hands-on kapag ganoon yung environment,” says Arias. “Papagalitan daw ako ‘pag nakita ng nanay ko na pinapagawa nila ako.”
(I was the boss’ kid, so it was difficult also to learn hands-on when the environment’s that way. They said my mom would scold me if she saw me trying things out with them.)
It was only in 2014 when Arias was finally able to try her hand at smithing, and even then, learning the craft remained elusive in the Philippines.
TESDA offered metalsmithing, forging, and jewelry-making courses, but it was difficult to trace their training centers. Arias tried her luck in Meycauayan, Bulacan – the goldsmithing capital of Luzon – but quickly learned that the Bulaceño smiths were trained by their parents in their own workshops. The craft was handed down from generation to generation, but they weren’t trained to teach smithing.
But Arias wasn’t one to give up on her dream that easily, and her desire to learn smithing took her to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she spent a whole month training to be a smith.
International studios usually offer smithing training programs that run from three months to half a year, but Arias couldn’t be away from the Philippines for too long – she had a part-time job as a product designer at a museum.
She ended up taking two smithing classes everyday from Monday to Saturday and spent her Sundays designing. For Arias, though, who finally got her chance at the workbench, it didn’t feel like work.
“Nakakapagod (It was tiring), but it was worth it naman,” she says.
Not all aspiring women smiths were as lucky as Arias, though. When she got back from Malaysia, she knew she wanted to make the craft accessible to Filipinos.
“I decided that maybe once I’m more confident, I could also teach it so that others won’t have to go through what I had to go through. I’m sure there’s plenty like me who also want to learn,” Arias says.
What compelled her most to teach, however, was her late uncle and art historian Ramon Villegas, who specialized in Philippine jewelry.
“It’s also because of him why I became a teacher. I’m more compelled to continue because when he passed, he left a huge void in the local jewelry community,” says Arias.
In 2015, Studio 925 set up shop for the first time. The studio’s name, 925, is derived from the main material Arias works with – sterling silver, which is made up of 92.5% silver.
Into the forge
It all started in a tiny studio in Quezon City with two best friends and a dream.
After Arias’ training program ended, she and her business partner and best friend Pat Peralta decided to strike while the iron was hot and open their own workshop. Just like Arias, Peralta comes from a family of expert jewelry appraisers.
“When I started the studio, I was the first to start a studio like this where anyone can just learn. I made it more accessible,” says Arias.
Just as she had thought, there were many other Filipinos who were interested in learning smithing but couldn’t find any studios that offered workshops, and most of her students were women.
“I would say about 95% of my students are girls. There really isn’t a space where girls can go and learn how to smith,” she says. “When I built it, my goal wasn’t really for it to be focused on women empowerment. Naging ganoon (It became that way) because there are plenty of girls like me who experienced what I experienced na dati pa gusto (wherein they had always wanted to give it a shot) but couldn’t find training here in the Philippines.”
Studio 925 is now located in Bel-Air Village, Makati City, where they have five workbenches, two soldering stations, one electroplating station, one polishing station, and one forging station. Since opening, they’ve taught over a thousand students and forged new opportunities for many of them – especially women. – Rappler.com
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