Monday, 20 June 2011

Joe Calafato: A late twentieth century South African precious metal artist.                                                                           
Fred van Staden
Department of Psychology, University of South Africa, PO Box 392, Pretoria, 0003

        (Published in the South African Journal of Cultural History, Vol24(1), June 2010, pp.126-150. Copyrighted by the SAJCH)

Thirteen semi-structured interviews with colleagues and some family members of Joe Calafato (1912 -1991) were held in order to compose a systematic profile of his contributions to the development of precious metal artistry in South Africa between 1947 and 1984. This information was integrated with available archival documentation, a sketch book, order books, autograph book, newspaper reports, along with photos of private collections of his work. Whereas specific attention was paid to his jewellery output, other lines of design in which he worked were also recognised. The development over time in his designs from Western oriented motifs to South African inspired designs is also highlighted. 
Key words: goldsmith; Joe Calafato; late twentieth century, Pretoria; precious metal artist; manufacturing jeweller; silversmith.

Over the past thirty years, the South African government has given increasing support to the development of the jewellery manufacturing sector through incentives and formal training programmes.[1]  At present, at least 6 active jewellery manufacturing training programmes are on offer at local tertiary institutions: Tshwane University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the College of Cape Town, the  Central University of Technology in the  Free State and the University of Johannesburg.[2] In 2009, the industry has grown to around 350 manufacturing workshops all over the main centres of South Africa, some employing large numbers of staff and others remaining small studios.[3] Though they are still mostly supplying the local market, some agreements have been made to export mass produced products such as chains.[4]
However, up until the 1970’s South Africa’s jewellery manufacturing sector has been largely ignored and even suppressed by the state.[5] For most of the twentieth century the jewellery manufacturing industry in South Africa remained small, possibly also because international markets were highly competitive and not likely to be positively inclined towards South African manufactured products. The fledgling nature of the industry during this time is also reflected in a lack of systematic information about its past. Whereas some composite reference work on old Cape Silver[6] is available, the last 100 years of jewellery manufacturing in South Africa has yielded only a few tributary works.[7] [8]
One designer-manufacturer of the late twentieth century whose work has not been comprehensively recorded, is Joe Calafato (1912 -1991). He designed and manufactured jewellery and other precious metal artifacts for 37 years (1947 – 1984) in Pretoria. His work made an important contribution to the development of a uniquely South African precious metal art manufacturing tradition. 
After initial interviews with his wife and daughter, their referrals to Calafato’s colleagues and employees led to a purposive snowball sampling process where altogether 13 persons were interviewed – they included die sinkers, enamellists, apprentices, engravers and jewellers. A semi structured interview schedule was used where interviewees were requested to talk chronologically about the time they worked with Calafato. Follow-up interviews to clarify, extend or to compare some information were done (in some cases up to two follow up interviews were recorded). The interviews were then transcribed and the content integrated with other sources of information.
The Calafato family made available a portfolio of some of his documents such as letters, invoices, an autograph book and a sketchbook which added significantly to the information base. Mr J. Erasmus, the present owner of the Calafato business granted access to order books and photos. As with all qualitative descriptive research, the various sources of information were compared and corroborative information, anomalies and gaps were identified. This information was then used to compile the story of Guiseppe (Joe) Leonardo Calafato’s precious metal artistry (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Guiseppe (Joe) Leonardo Calafato (1912-1991)
(Photograph: Velia Calafato, Pretoria)[9]
Of Sicilian parentage, Calafato was born on 10 July 1912 in the then Lorenço Marques in Mozambique. His father died when he was still a young boy after which his mother moved with her children in the late 1920s to Johannesburg. Calafato considered becoming a couturier. Nevertheless, even though he was as a child not directly exposed to any specialized schooling in art, or to precious metal manufacturing (his parents were merchants), his instinctive sense of composition, thematic content and style soon led him to a career as a gold- and silversmith instead. In 1934 he was accepted as an apprentice by Jack Friedman who owned Friedman Jewellers in Braamfontein. Friedman was a Latvian immigrant who opened his workshop in Johannesburg in 1933 and later became a well known jewellery manufacturer and watchmaker  on the Witwatersrand.
After his apprenticeship, Calafato worked for seven years (from April 1938 until June 1945) at the South African Mint as silversmith.[10] [11] He specialised as designer in the jewellery section of the Mint.[12] To augment his income, he started designing and making jewellery during lunch hours at work. Soon other workers at the Mint joined him with mutual training taking place.[13] He continued designing and manufacturing jewellery at home in the evenings. Initially, as a South African of Italian ancestry, his work at home was investigated by the wartime security forces who thought the hammering from his work place may be clandestine morse code messages. But when his activities were revealed to be nothing more than the first steps of a very promising jewellery designer manufacturer, he was left alone to sharpen and develop his jewellery making skills at night.[14]
In addition to being a fine metal artist and manufacturer, Calafato was also a businessman. In 1947 he formed a partnership with a former colleague at the South African Mint, Mr Bob Campbell (who was a ‘die sinker’ by trade)[15] and together they opened a jewellery workshop close to the corner of Potgieter and Schoeman streets in Pretoria. In the same year they employed Messrs Schalk Vorster[16], Lorenzo Scribante and George Xanthides as apprentices.[17] They called the business Metal Art Creations (Figure 2) and used the name ‘Candida’ as maker’s mark on their jewellery (Figure 3).[18]
In 1951 a number of jewellers in Pretoria joined as partners in Calafato and Campbell’s business and they established a new workshop in Watt street in Pretoria West which they simply named Metal Art. Amongst the partners were names such as Messrs Becklake, Percy Cave (engraver, specializing in mace making) and Bill Myburg (specializing in medal and badge designs), Boet de Lange, Rumpelman (engraver) and Hendriks from the South African Mint, as well as Mssrs Bob Taylor (engraver) and Frenchie Gatticchi (apprentice).[19] It developed into a big workshop with nearly 200 workers amongst whom were at least seven die sinkers, four engravers and a fair number of soldering specialists[20]. However, there were too many partners and in 1953 Calafato and his original partner, Bob Campbell left Metal Art and opened a new business on their own in the city centre in Church street, Pretoria. Here they continued to produce a wide range of jewellery designs under the Candida name. They registered the business as Precise Die Makers and Engravers (Pty) Ltd. The dies they produced were cut by hand.[21]
Figure 2: Metal Art Creations: The first precious metal manufacturing business established in 1947 close to the corner of Potgieter and Schoeman streets in Pretoria.
(Photograph: Mrs. Velia Calafato, Pretoria)
Figure 3: The two forms of the Candida maker’s mark that were used in Calafato’s workshops.
(Photograph: Hellmut Wilhelm, Pretoria, 2009-04-23)
In 1966 the government lifted many of the import controls and tariff duties on imported jewellery and the increased competition severely affected the Candida sales. Whilst it was bad for business, it also meant that the workshop could import mass produced clasps (consisting of a matching catch, pin and joint) which they used in lieu of having to make their own hooks and pins.  Consequently, brooches made with mass manufactured clasps represent the last Candida period from 1966 - 1972. The workshop continued to manufacture its own earring clips though. Possibly to keep his prices competitive, the jewellery manufactured for the retail market after 1966 was thinner than before, using less silver. Their commissioned work continued to flourish. For example, the wives of a number of cabinet ministers and a director-general as well as a number of corporate economists continued to order jewellery from them.[22]
In 1968 Campbell and Calafato dissolved their partnership. Campbell opened his own workshop in Visagie Street specializing in medal, pin and badge making.[23] Calafato moved his workshop to a house at 232 Bloed Street and registered it under the name of Joe Calafato (Pty) Ltd.[24]
From 1972 he began to use new maker’s marks on his jewellery and flatware namely Velia, Carina and Dawu. He only occasionally still used the Candida mark on his jewellery.[25] Some of the Candida, Velia and Dawu marked work shared the same original dies which were adapted by adding different backgrounds or replacing parts of the dies with new content. He also introduced the JC mark (the initials of his name JC within the outline of a shield). This was  primarily used on hollow ware, and curios such as wall hangings and ash trays. He further diversified his output by designing badges, pins and some medals on which he his name, Joe Calafato, as a maker’s mark (Figure 4). For a decade he traded his work in Bloed street[26] before moving to 730 Voortrekkers Road in 1982 where he sold the business in 1984 to Mr and Mrs  A. P. J. Dique and their son in law, Mr  J. Erasmus.[27] The new owners retained the name of Joe Calafato for their business and because of government incentives for establishing businesses in the homelands, they moved the workshop to Ga-Rankuwa. They did not use the Carina, Velia and Dawu marks but continued for a while using his JC as well as the Joe Calafato maker’s marks. Later on they moved the workshop to Ekandustria. Because of low profitability, they stopped manufacturing jewellery and began to concentrate on producing sport medals, pins and badges. At present the workshop uses the mark ‘Metal Art’ and has employed a goldsmith to manufacture a limited line of jewellery. Some of the dies used over the years are still with the workshop[28], while a number of dies are scattered amongst the artisans who worked for Calafato.[29]
After a long battle with cancer of the esophagus, the ‘King of Silver’,[30] Joe Calafato died on the 30th of December 1991 at the age of 79.[31]
Figure 4: Examples of the Dawu, JC, Joe Calafato, Velia and Carina marks.
(Photograph: Hellmut Wilhelm, Pretoria, 2009-04-23)
Maker’s marks: Format, place and medium
In Table 1 a summary is provided of the maker’s marks used during Calafato’s career. It is not clear why such a range of marks was used – perhaps in order to distinguish to some extent between his copper and silver work as well as to distinguish amongst his badge/medal work, curios/souvenirs for the tourist market and his more specialised jewellery work.[32] Not one of his maker’s marks were registered with the South African Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office.[33]
Some gold was used under the Candida, Velia and Carina marks. Gold products were however mostly manufactured on commission,[34] hence the scarcity of examples of gold jewellery. Nevertheless, Calafato’s portfolio contains a photo and a few sketches of a number of sophisticated golden scrolled cameo pendant casings. 
Some souvenir spoons contain both the Carina and Kruger Park marks or the Velia and Kruger Park marks. Some copper souvenirs also contain both the JC and the Kruger Park marks. This indicates that some of his merchandise was sold to the National Parks Board who required that the mark Kruger Park be added to the merchandise sold in the park.. This was produced during the broad period of around 1972 – 1984.[35]
Table 1: Maker’s marks used by Joe Calafato
Name of mark
Format of maker’s mark
Years in manufacture
CAndidA in calibri font and STER SILV  imprint.
1947 – 1951
- c/o Schoeman & Potgieter Sts, Pretoria
Sterling silver and some enamel work.
STER SILV in arial font imprint. Sometimes also S.AFRICA and the name of some individual pieces.
In gold: 9CT or 18CT
 1947 – 1951
1951 - 1953
1953 – 1966
1966 - 1972
(Occasionally after 1972)
- c/o Schoeman & Potgieter Sts,
-Watt St,
- Church St,
-Bloed St,
Sterling silver,
Some semi-precious stones as well as enamel. Some gold and platinum.
Mostly jewellery. Some souvenir spoons.
Carina in cursive along with STER-SIL or SILVERPLATED and sometimes S.AFRICA or SOUTH AFRICA (arial font).
1972 – 1982
1982 – 1984
- Bloed St,
- Voortrekkers Rd, Pretoria.
Sterling silver, silver plate and sometimes enamel. Mostly souvenir spoons and cutlery. Some jewellery.
Velia in cursive or in capitals (arial font) along with STER-SIL or SILVER PLATED or GENUINE COPPER and S.AFRICA or SOUTH AFRICA.
1972 – 1982
1982 - 1984
- Bloed St,
- Voortrekkers Rd, Pretoria.
Silver, oxidised silver, silver plate, nickel plate, copper and sometimes enamel.
Mostly jewellery, souvenir spoons and cake forks.
DAWU, COPPER and SOUTH ARFICA imprint (arial font).
1972 – 1982
1982 – 1984
- Bloed St,
- Voortrekkers Rd, Pretoria
Copper, sometimes combined with sterling silver. Jewellery.
Kruger Park
WILDTUIN KRUGER PARK imprint (this mark was also used by other manufacturers) along with the Carina, Velia and JC marks.
For a period between 1972 -1984
- Bloed St,
- Voortrekkers Rd, Pretoria
Copper, sterling silver, silver plate.
Jewellery and souvenir spoons
Shield outline containing  the letters JC with the word Copper below when applicable.
1972 – 1982
1982 - 1984
- Bloed St,
- Voortrekkers Rd, Pretoria.
Copper, Silver plate.
Mostly curios e.g. wall plates & ash trays (copper)
Joe Calafato
JOE CALAFATO imprint. On badges and pins: BOX 1475 PRETORIA
1972 – 1982
1982 - 1984
1984 – new owners: Mr & Mrs  Dique
- Bloed st,
- Voortrekkers Rd, Pretoria.
- Garankuwa
- Ekandustria
Nickel plate, brass, enamel.
Medals, pins, badges, and souvenir articles
Manufacturing processes, materials and range of composition
Calafato made use of mainly two processes for manufacturing his jewellery - a so-called ‘press method’ and a ‘die cast method’.[36] The press method included the use of a weighted press on a flat bed of metal overlaying a carved die consisting of hardened steel. With this method the die sinker could produce fine detail such as relief and scroll work that gets chiseled in its negative form from the steel die before it is hardened.[37] 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.[38] Some cuttlefish bone casting was also done. Chalices, cups and vases were hammered, hard casted as well as lathe spun.[39]
Already early in his career, Calafato developed his versatile skills. In 1945, his employers at the South African Mint attested that his
..experience is very varied and includes many fine pieces which has added to the reputation of the Mint, such as large silver salvers, sports shields and cigarette boxes, etc.,as well as many varied items of enameled work. Mr Calafato was, moreover, in charge of his section.[40]
His jewellery designs consisted of individual pieces and any combination of bracelets, bangles, rings, brooches, pendants, necklaces and earrings. He also designed St Christopher pendants and the traditional cross pendant with a very detailed three dimensional Christ figure on it, as well as tie pins and cuff links.[41]  He worked mostly in sterling silver and copper but also made use of silver plate, some gold, platinum and enamel. He primarily used the cloisonné technique in which the enamel is placed in preformed hollows built into the metal base. In the early years, enamelling was done with Bunsen burners.[42] Sometimes precious and semi-precious stones were also included in the compositions[43].
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 romanticised human figures to minimalist abstract forms . Especially the bold and chunky designs of some of the early ensemble (or parure) pieces are well known. While he did not make use of en tremblant designs (a wire coiled spring mount technique), some brooches, pendants and earrings were designed with movable parts, allowing the pieces to echo the wearer’s movement.[44]
Throughout his career, but especially during the time he worked in Bloed Street Calafato  diversified his output to include all kinds of metal artwork. In a stylish full page magazine advertisement published in 1975, he stated that the workshop specialised in
Jewellery, medals and enamel,badges, service awards, sporting spoons, shields and trophies, as well as regalias.
In a second advertisement the following was added, displaying his ties to the South African Amateur Athletics Association, one of his biggest clients[45]:
Official suppliers of medals, plaques etc. to the SAAAU [46]
The medals he made for athletics competitions, as well as other badges, buttons and pins often contained enamelled inlays and were bevelled in a labour intensive way instead of using the more expedient process of covering the design with a layer of resin.
A letterhead he used in Bloed street states that the business manufactures :
Candida gold and silver jewellery, silverware, presentation keys and trowels, jewels and mayoral chains, shields and trophies. 
Amongst the letters of appreciation received were the National Council of Chartered accountants (for a trophy, 1978), City Council of Boksburg (mayor’s trophy, 1976), the South African Games Association (medals manufactured for the South African Games in 1979).
Interestingly, he also made communion chalices for a few church congregations as well as religious crowns [47]. In one case, the church elders requested that he remove his JC insignia from their communion chalice, lest it be thought of as the signature of Jesus Christ.[48]
 For the tourist trade he manufactured miscellaneous articles such as copper ash trays and wall plates, tea spoons, letter openers, money clasps and bookmarks. In addition, he produced flatware that included cake forks, tea spoons, sugar spoons and (commemorative) serving trays. These were adorned with scrolls, small proteas and animals on the spoon finials. They were made in silver or silver plate. He designed finials that captured images of giraffe, elephant, water buck, kudu and impala. These are all omnivores, and it seems likely that full sets were made (a sixth image is still missing), but the spoons were also sold as souvenir singles. The animal sets were marked with the Velia, Carina and Kruger Park maker’s marks. Some demitasse spoons were also manufactured. [49] 
He also used enamel to create coats of arms representing a range of South African cities on the finials of souvenir tea spoons. These include the cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Six different colours of enamel were used for the colouring of the crests; yellow, black, white, red, brown and green.[50] Some spoons contained African village life or African wildlife scenes in the hollow of the spoons. The high quality and refined three-dimensional artistry on the hollows, hilts and finials of the spoons, reflected the custom of a discerning clientele (Figure 5).Under the Dawu mark he appears to have specialised in copper brooches and bracelets that focus specifically on African cultural themes.
Throughout his career, his business did not stock the work of other jewellers. Instead, he supplied others with some of his work. He also employed a number of representatives or distributors.[51] Because of an adequate internal demand for his products, he never exported his wares.[52]
Figure 5: Examples of sterling silver tea, sugar and collectors spoons manufactured under the Candida, Velia and Carina marks.
Some achievements
Recognition of Calafato’s great skill in working with precious metals came early in his life when a group from the local Muslim community commissioned the South African Mint to design and manufacture a casket as a commemorative gift to the Shah Aga Khan during his visit to South Africa in 1945. Calafato designed and oversaw the manufacture of the casket. It was presented to the Shah by prime minister Field Marshall Jan Smuts.[53]
Another highlight in his life occurred a few years later when the Master’s Diamond Cutters Association of South Africa commissioned him to make a small casket of 18 carat carved gold costing 3000 British pounds.[54] It was presented in 1947 to Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in honour of his fiftieth year in the diamond industry. In 1973 its value was estimated to be R400 000. At present it is displayed at the head office of Minorca in London.[55]
At one time during the 1970s, Calafato also obtained the rights to manufacture a number of Walt Disney figures in sterling silver and gold[56]. He created at least 11 different figures barely more than a centimetre high in the form of bracelet charms that were only sold on the local market with no maker’s mark. These three dimensional figures were exceptionally detailed and made to delight the senses. Walt Disney himself acknowledged Calafato’s excellent artistry with a personal note of appreciation.[57] This accolade is particularly telling, since it is known that Disney was very protective of his images and earlier on in 1939 had formed a partnership with Cartier to create a range of enameled bracelet charms of his cartoon characters.[58]
During the 1970s and early 1980s, bishop Edward Lekhanya of the Zionist Christian Church ordered his famous ZCC star badges, buttons, cuff links and tie pins on consignment from Joe Calafato’s workshop. Thus, one of the biggest churches in Africa also ordered its signifiers from him.[59]
In the 1970’s the artist Walter Battiss created the fantasy world of Fook Island,[60] complete with an imaginary king and queen, a written language of its own and its own currency. Fook Island did not only exist in his drawings, he also translated it into a small townhouse complex in Menlo Park. He commissioned Calafato to craft and mint the coins to be used in this mythical world. This request attests to the high regard Batiss had as an artist for the quality of Calafato’s work.[61] Four coins were minted in different alloys. One side of the coins contain a double image of a young lady with long hair. The two images are joined by the neck. The words ‘FOOK ISLAND’ appear on the left and Fook Island writing symbols appear on the right. The number 10 is stamped on the flipside along with an image of two halved deer (with horns but also with snouts similar to that of a jackal) looking in opposite directions and joined in their middles (Figure 6).
Figure 6: Fook Island ‘coins’ in different alloys.
The city councils of Springs and Gaberone commissioned their mayoral chains from him[62]. In addition, reference is made of a globe that was made for the South African Philatelic Society[63], and a ceremonial staff created for the Loretto Convent in Pretoria.[64]
Influences and thematic content
Joe Calafato was the principal designer of the work that was produced under his maker’s marks.[65] As such, over time the Calafato jewellery collection from 1947 until 1984 was  significantly inspired by a combination of  major external jewellery design trends over the past hundred years that became increasingly rooted within a South African frame of reference .[66]
His design inspiration appears to have been multifaceted and adapted to fashion trends and demands. It ranged from stimulations sparked by European and American jewellery magazines, occasional travels abroad,[67] apprentices who were often from Europe, commissioned works as well as the tastes of the general public of which the tourist trade became increasingly important over the years. He was particularly impressed by the nineteenth century Portuguese tradition of silver ware crafting.[68] Perhaps this partially accounts for an emphasis on flowing scroll designs in his earlier work. He also regularly exchanged ideas with a fellow precious metal artist in Cape Town, Mauro Pagliari (die sinker) who established his workshop in 1957.[69]
His preferred medium was silver which was already well established as a popular jewellery base in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century. 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.[70]
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 on an international platform. It is claimed that the characteristic lines used in Art Deco designs were also inspired by primitive motifs from the ancient Egyptians and tribal African designs.[71] Traces of Art Deco inspirations can be found in a number of the Candida ensemble pieces where the emphasis is placed on geometric forms and patterns in the design of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and brooches.[72] In the beginning of his career, components such as scroll patterns, round balls, small smooth half drops as well as riffled hollow cups were often reconfigured and soldered together in different designs. Later on, many of the African and wildlife images were also reconfigured in different pieces of jewellery.[73]
Perhaps understandably, the dominant movement during the 1940s (recently differentiated as the ‘1940s retro’ style or ‘retro moderne’)[74] appears to have played a significant inspirational role during the early stages of Calafato’s designs under the Candida mark (Figure 7). 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. In addition, the hammered surfaces on some bon-bon dishes that he created in the 1950s reflect this period well.[75] 
In the 1940s and 1950s, the use of wire to lighten items of jewellery and give texture to surfaces (introduced during the Arts and Crafts movement)[76] was again picked up and popularised by European manufacturers.[77] Similarly, the use of wirework was also successfully incorporated as a design element in some Candida marked designs (Calafato did not however produce filigree work).
 From the late 1940’s, international jewellery houses such as Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels began producing their versions of popular figurative jewellery motifs: animals, ballerinas and "novelty" figures such as clowns, scarecrows and flower-sellers.[78]  This line of inspiration was also expressed through a wide range of Candida figurines in the form of brooches (Figure 7). 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 just for mounting gemstones.[79] 
In the midst of the proliferation of styles in the 1960s and 1970s, there was, however, also a trend towards a kind of ‘organic modernism’ stimulated by Scandinavian jewellers with many designers striving for an economy of line and form.[80] This trend can also be detected in some of Calafato’s later designs under the Candida mark as well as amongst the range of designs he produced under the Carina and Velia marks (Figure 8).[81]
Figure 7: Examples of jewellery produced under the Candida mark
(Photograph: Hellmut Wilhelm, Pretoria, 2009-04-23)

Figure 8: These brooches and bracelets represent some of Joe Calafato’s later work produced under the Velia mark.
(Photograph: Hellmut Wilhelm, Pretoria, 2009-04-23)
His work reflects a time line in terms of a fading European influence mingling with a strengthening African influence both in terms of inspiration and form. There is a clear migration from the original scroll abstractions to a more ‘organic realism’ in expressing plant, animal and human form, ending in an almost exclusive emphasis on African landscape, animal and village life. [82] At the end, his work matured into extensively embracing images of the African continent, making him an African manufacturing jeweller in the full sense of the word.
African themes formed an important line of inspiration in Joe Calafato’s work. His early African images (under the Candida mark) dealt almost exclusively with stylish African female figures clad with cultural accessories that include headdresses, large rounded earrings and beaded necklaces.  It expressed a fascination with culturally traditional female African beauty.  A few images of children were also included, one of which became noted in its own right. It was pressed in the form of a brooch and consists of a young boy eating from a three legged pot with a wooden spoon (Figure 9). Perhaps because of its endearing quality, it became one of very few compositions that was additionally stamped with a descriptive title, namely ‘lo umfaan’.
From 1972 onwards his depictions became more complex by adding rural background arrangements consisting of trees, rocks, tufts of grass, mountains, rondavels and aloes in bloom. Especially in this later work he incorporated traditional icons of African culture such the drum, the milling block with pounder, spear and shield, clay bowl, knobkerrie, amulets, ancle rings, reed mat, loin cloth and musical instruments. With these elements scenes such as hunting, drumming, dancing, maize pounding, socializing, music making and eating are composed. The designs pay lyrical homage  to African expressions of nurturance, protection and beauty.
Under the Velia mark he designed a range of scenes inspired by bushman cave paintings. Typical of the 1970s, the depictions were encapsulated in oval or rounded forms. To add depth to the images he added brown, black and white enamel (see left side brooch in Figure 8).[83] Since Calafato was acquainted with Walter Batiss who became known for his aesthetic appreciation of rock art[84], it is possible that Calafato’s bushman art designs were at least in part stimulated by the work of  Walter Batiss.
Calafato’s wildlife studies developed parallel with and in the same way as his African imagery. It started off as individual animal figures that over time expanded to more complex compositions placed within rural landscapes (almost like a small painting in metal). These include studies of the larger mammals such as elephant, giraffe, lion, leopard, various antelopes and zebra. Sometimes the wildlife and African cultural elements were combined in the
layout of the piece.
 Interestingly, the African as well as the wildlife compositions under the Candida and the later Velia, Carina and Dawu maker’s marks seem to have been made only as separate brooches, pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings, cuff links and key rings but not in the form of necklaces or ensemble pieces.[85]
Figure 9: The African iconography of Calafato, moving from individual figures to more complex compositions of cultural life.
(Photograph: Hellmut Wilhelm, Pretoria, 2009-04-23)
 Socio-political contexts
Since job reservation laws during the apartheid years prevented Black South Africans from being trained in jewellery manufacturing, Calafato also attempted in the mid 1960’s to set up a workshop in Swaziland with the help of his brother, Antonio Calafato. However, due to logistical problems this outsourcing venture did not last long.[86]
Clandestinely, Calafato trained some of his Black workers to do enamel work.[87] They also attached pins to brooches, soldered, and did piercing, sawing and striking.[88] During government inspections the workers returned to menial jobs.[89]
Whilst Calafato and his partner undermined the labour restriction laws of the time, the nationalist government and parastatal organisations were clients of his. His work also reflected the need for nationalist symbols such as images of springbuck and proteas along with commissioned medals of ministers’ profiles to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Republic of South Africa in 1965 along with the National Party’s 50th anniversary. For the latter, he made a medal depicting the profiles of its four prime ministers Strydom, Hertzog, Malan and Verwoerd.[90]
In the late 1960s Calafato’s request to import Italian artisans was refused by the Nationalist Government. Nevertheless, a number of local Italian prisoners of war who elected to stay in country were trained in various capacities in the manufacturing process. Earlier requests to allow German artisans to work with him, were granted though.[91]
Market value
Because of its good quality, attention to detail, pleasing interpretations, and containing maker’s marks, his work has always been in demand and has lent itself very well to the collectible market. Over time his legacy has also become increasingly sought after.[92] A silver plated Velia pin with an elephant design sold in 1999 on e-bay for 31US$ (about R375 when translated to the 2009 rand value).[93]
In 2009, average market prices were as follows: Earrings, brooches and pendants in sterling silver are separately on offer from R 400 to R900; bracelets sell between R1200 to R2000 each and the asking price for necklaces range from R1 800 to R 3 000. Ensemble or parure sets (consisting of 3 or more matching pieces) cost upwards from R5 000. [94] These do not often appear on the market though, since dealers find it easier to sell the pieces separately.  
Joe Calafato possessed a unique combination of skills with which he contributed significantly to South African cultural heritage. Not only was he a successful businessman and employer, but he also shared his talents and experience as an artist and a craftsman with many others.
Whilst little is known about most of Calafato’s colleagues, the skill the above artists invested in their work, deserve our applause. These are people who have chosen to express their creativity  in the difficult medium of metal, which requires great technical ability and a thorough  understanding of the characteristics of different alloys. They also represent the last generation of metal artists who had to engaged directly with their medium without the clinical and automated effects of computer software and laser technology.
Note: My sincere thanks to Istine Swart for assisting with research, conducting interviews and for critically reviewing earlier drafts of this article (along with Zorina Calafato and Jakkie Erasmus).  Also to Marit Greenwood for photographing Calafato artifacts and assisting with interviews.

[1] Diamond News: SA Government sends students to China in Diamond training deal (2006-02-20),
[2]Jewellery industry,, 2009-08-15.
[3] An MBendi Profile: South Africa – Manufacturing  jewellery,, 2009-04-14.
[4] IDC invests in gold and diamonds (2008-0516),, 2009-08-15.
[5] M. da Silva, The jewellery industry in South Africa. Urban Forum, 10(2), June 1999, p.1.
[6] S. Welz, Cape Silver & Silversmiths (Cape Town, 1976).
[7] D. & A. Jobst, Kurt Jobst Goldsmith and Silversmith (Johannesburg, 1979).
[8] E. Smit, Erich Frey 25 years (Pretoria Art Museum, 31 July – 18 August 1985).
[9] The photograph was taken at the South African Mint in 1945 just before Calafato resigned. Interview: Mr T Sasseen, apprenticed and employed as die sinker at the SA Mint 1950 – 1974, Pretoria, 2010-06-02.
[10] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[11] Testimonial issued by the South African Mint on 13 July 1945 upon Calafato’s resignation.
[12] Interview: Mr T Sasseen, apprenticed and employed as die sinker at the SA Mint 1950 – 1974, Pretoria, 2010-06-02.
[13] Interviews: Mrs. M. Powell, employed by Calafato, Pretoria, 2005-10-26, 2005-10-30 and 2005-12-06.
[14] Interviews: Ms Z. and Mrs. V. Calafato (daughter and wife) as well as with Lorenzo Scribante (silversmith and life long colleague of Calafato), November 2000. These interviews were captured in F. van Staden , Joe Calafato: The story of a South African fine metal artist, Reflections of Yesteryear 2(3), 2001, pp. 13-17.  Follow up interview: Ms Z. Calafato, Sunnyside, Pretoria, 2004-11-17.
[15] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, silversmith, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[16] Interview: Mr S. Vorster, apprenticed under Calafato and worked for Metal Art Creations from 1947 to 1952, Plettenberg bay, 2007.
[17] Interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, engraver and die sinker, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17. From 1947 he did a 4 year apprenticeship under Calafato. Thereafter he worked until 1953 in the Metal Art workshop.
[18]Interview: Mr S. Vorster, Plettenberg bay, 2007.
[19] Interview: Mr B. Taylor, worked in the early Metal Art workshop and again between 1970-1979 for Calafato, Pretoria, 2005-10-27.
[20] Interview: Mr G. Blything, worked in the 1970’s for Calafato as a medal die sinker, Pretoria, 2005-07-08.
[21] Registrar of Companies, Certificate of Change of Name, 1968-10-29. Also, interview: Mr T. Sasseen, Pretoria, 2010 -06-02.
[22] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[23] Interview: Mr T Sasseen, Pretoria, 2010-06-02
[24] Interviews: Mrs. M. Powell, Pretoria, 2005-10-26, 2005-10-30 and 2005-12-06. Also an approval note from the South African police to acquire gold ingots dated 2 August 1968 was sent to 232 Bloed street.
[25] Interviews: Mrs. M. Powell, Pretoria, 2005-10-26, 2005-10-30 and 2005-12-06. Also see the Van Staden collection.
[26] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[27] Interviews: Mr J. Erasmus, co- owner of the Metal Art and Joe Calafato companies, Pretoria, 2005-06-05, 2005-07-05 and 2005-10-24.
[28] Interviews: Mr J. Erasmus, Pretoria, 2005-06-05, 2005-07-05 and 2005-10-24.
[29] Interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17.
[30] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[31] F. van Staden , Joe Calafato: The story of a South African fine metal artist, Reflections of Yesteryear 2(3), 2001, pp. 13-17. Follow up interview: Ms Z. Calafato, Pretoria, 2004-11-17.
[32] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[33] A search by the national Registration Office back to 1943 yielded no information. http://ipnewpto/zaptolemy/web/IP/trademark/tmapplication/list.aspx, 2009-04-15.
[34] Interviews: Mrs. M. Powell, Pretoria, 2005-10-26, 2005-10-30 and 2005-12-06.
[35] Examples from the Van Staden collection.
[36] J. Bace, Collecting silver: The facts at your fingertips (London, 2000), pp. 41& 43.
[37] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[38] F. van Staden , Joe Calafato: The story of a South African fine metal artist, Reflections of Yesteryear 2(3), 2001, pp. 13-17.
[39] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[40] Testimonial issued by the South African Mint on 13 July 1945 upon Joe’s resignation.
[41] Interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17.
[42] Interview: Mr S. Vorster, Plettenberg bay, 2007.
[43] Interviews: Ms Z. Calafato, Pretoria, 2004-11-17 and  Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.  Designs recorded in Calafato’s  sketch book.
[44] Examples from the collections of Z. Calafato, S. Schultze I. Swart and F. van Staden. Combined, the collections hold more than 400 individual pieces of jewellery, as well as other artifacts produced by Joe Calafato.  Also, interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17.
[45] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[46] Only the advertisement pages are available. Though it does not have the name of the publication, an article on the reverse side of one of  the advertisements points to 1975 as the year of publication.
[47] Source: Photographs contained in Joe Calafato’s portfolio.
[48] F. van Staden , Joe Calafato: The story of a South African fine metal artist, Reflections of Yesteryear 2(3), 2001, pp. 13-17.
[49] Examples in the Calafato and Van Staden collections.
[50] Examples in the Calafato and Van Staden collections.
[51] Interview: Ms Z. Calafato, Pretoria, 2004-11-17.
[52] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[53] H. V. Keshavjee, The Aga Khan in Africa: His leadership and Inspiration, (Durban, 1948), pp. 65 & 66.
[54] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[55] Interview: Mr S. Vorster, Plettenberg Bay, 2007. Also, F. van Staden , Joe Calafato: The story of a South African fine metal artist, Reflections of Yesteryear 2(3), 2001, pp. 13-17.
[56] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6.
[57] Interview: Ms Z. Calafato, Pretoria, 2004-11-17.  Also, a signed photo of Walt Disney containing a message of appreciation on file.
[58] J Price, Masterpieces of American jewelry, (Philadelphia,2004), pp. 80.
[59] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[60] Sean O’Toole, For Fook’s sake, Sunday Times Lifestyle, 2005-11-20, p. 10.
[61] F. van Staden , Joe Calafato: The story of a South African fine metal artist, Reflections of Yesteryear 2(3), 2001, pp. 13-17. Also,, 2009-08-04. Examples of the four coins in different alloys form part of the Van Staden collection.
[62] Drawings from Calafato’s sketch book, letter of  appreciation from the city council of Springs (1982-07-14) , as well as a newspaper  clipping photo of the mayor of Gaberone wearing his mayoral chain whilst accompanying Queen Elizabeth  11 on her state visit to Botswana in 1979. Also, Botswana – 1979 Royal Visit,, 2009-07-13
[63] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09. Also two photo’s of the globe are contained in the Calafato portfolio.
[64] Interview: Mr S Vorster, Plettenberg bay, 2007.
[65] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09 and Mrs. M Powell, Pretoria, 2005-10-26, 2005-10-30 and 2005-12-06.
[66] Interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17.
[67] Interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17.
[68] Interviews: Ms Z. Calafato, Pretoria, 2004-11-17 and  Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-10-31 and  2005-11-09. Also jewellery magazines filed in Calafato’s  portfolio.
[69] Interviews: Mr B Hartland, employed by Joe from1979 to 1981, Pretoria, 2005-10-26 and  Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[70] C. Truman (ed.), Sotheby’s concise encyclopedia of silver (London, 1999), pp. 150-152.
[71] Jewelry history and historic jewelry information, http//, 2009-08-14.
[72] C. Truman (ed.), Sotheby’s concise encyclopedia of silver, pp. 164.
[73] Examples in the Calafato, Swart, Schultze and Van Staden collections. Also, the designs recorded in Calafato’s  sketch book.
[74] Retro moderne designer notes,, 2009-08-14.
[75] Examples in the Calafato, Swart,Schultze and Van Staden collections. Also, the designs recorded in Calafato’s  sketch book.
[76] J. Bace, Collecting silver: The facts at your fingertips (London, 2000), p. 86.
[77] History of wire crafted jewelry,, 2009-08-14.
[78] J. Price, Masterpieces of American jewelry, pp. 80, 89-92.
[79] Examples in the Calafato, Swart, Schultze and Van Staden collections.
[80] C. Truman (ed.), Sotheby’s concise encyclopedia of silver, pp. 182-183.
[81] Examples in the Calafato, Swart, Schultze and Van Staden collections.
[82] Comparing outputs before 1972  in the Calafato, Swart, Schultze and Van Staden collections to the outputs after 1972.
[83] Source: Photographs from Calafato’s personal files.
[84] E. Berman, Art and Artists of South Africa. biographies/batiss-walter, 2010/06/07
[85] Examples in the Calafato, Swart, Schultze and Van Staden collections. Also, the designs recorded in Calafato’s  sketch book.
[86] Interviews: Mr G. Xanthides, Pretoria, 2004-11-16 and 2004-11-17.
[87] Interview: Mr G. Blything, Pretoria, 2005-07-08.
[88] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09.
[89]Interviews: Ms Z. Calafato, Pretoria, 2004-11-17 and Mrs. M. Powell, Pretoria, 2005-10-26, 2005-10-30 and 2005-12-06.
[90] Juwelier maak nou medaljes, Hoofstad, 1982-10-27, p.6. Also, photo’s of the medals are contained in the Calafato portfolio.
[91] Interviews: Mr L. Scribante, Pretoria, 2005-20-31 and 2005-11-09. Also, E. Frey, Erich Frey 25 years, p.2.
[92]Only over the past 5 years the market prices of his jewellery have doubled in price, when comparing acquisition receipts of  the Schultze, Swart and Van Staden collections.
[93] eBay bid history for South African Silver Plated Elephant Pin (item#74460923),, 1999-03-15.
[94] Prices were averaged by comparing products available from Paisley’s (Pretoria), Things of Old (Johannesburg), the Antique Shop (Cape Town), the collectibles faire at the Voortrekker Monument (Pretoria) on 16 June 2009  along with the National Antiques and  Decorative Arts Faire, Sandton Convention Centre, 24-26 July 2009.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful amount of information! I have a piece of very thick,luxuriant Candida jewellery - inherited - so it has been so good to find out something about it. Thank you!

    1. Wear your candida piece with joy, as it was meant to be.. Apart from Calafato who designed the piece, there were a whole handful of handpicked craftspeople (die sinker, engraver, polisher, solderer) who contributed to the manufacturing process. Today, this work is mostly machine made. Your piece is probably from Calafato's early period when thick heavy silver jewellery was made. Thanks for your response! fred

  2. Having collected Zulu and Xhosa beadwork intensively during the 1980s I was delighted when I saw my first piece of Candida, a Zulu womans head in brooch form . The detail and correct rendering of detail was wonderful. I have over the years collected in this theme any Candida work that I could find. I have only a few pieces as it is not common to find in the UK. I have tried over the years to find out more about the maker, so to come upon your research was great.

  3. This is exactly what initially caught my eye - the detailed and appreciative expression of African culture and wildlife. Throughout his career, Calafato designed African inspired jewellery (mostly brooches and bracelets. As far as I am concerned, his work is undervalued. He was the first designer jeweller in Southern Africa that extensively celebrated the African idiom in his work. Hold on to your collection and extend it where you can - check internet shopping sites. I think your beadwork combined with jewellery expressing the beadwork designs make a special collection! Happy hunting. Fred.

  4. Today I bought a beautiful silver brooch of a lady walking her greyhound. A quick google of the imprint led me to your blog and now I know she came from, thanks!

    1. Dear Debbie
      So nice to hear from you! You just can’t stay away from the good stuff – I know, I have the same affliction.
      Lovely to read you again!

    2. About 35 years ago II inherited a small silver brooch in the form of a daisy flower. I always thought that the imprint on the back said Sterling Silver. Only today for the first time I took a magnifying glass and saw that it actually says STER SILV CANDIDA. Through Google I learnt the history of this piece. Fascinating stuff. Thank you.

  5. Great information on your site - invaluable for research - hats off to you, thank you and best wishes, Elizabeth M.

  6. Thanks Elizabeth, Much appreciated.Best, Fred

  7. Thanks for good information. I have a extraordinary bracelet in Sterling silver with bushmen, enameled, much as you describe the Velia range. I was hoping that you can look at it for me. Regards Henriette

    1. Hi Henriette - Apologies for only responding now. You bracelet piece sounds rather special. Calafato's enamel work is fairly scarce. I have one of his bushman brown enamelled brooches. Have never seen an enamelled bushman bracelet. Do send me a photo at

  8. Fred. I am the granddaughter of Joe Calafato and I am currently bringing his African design to life. Please contact me 0735070187

  9. Thanks a lot for sharing this amazing knowledge with us. This site is fantastic. I always find great knowledge from it. Jewellery Designers Cape Town