Alcino Silversmith

As soon as we step foot in the Manuel Alcino & Filhos workshop, we can’t help but feel like it has stopped in time, and a good thing it is, too. In a world dominated by mass production, the brand from Oporto sets itself apart in a competitive market thanks to its manual work in silver and its preservation of traditional techniques. “We always believe in manufacturing as opposed to industrialisation, through ongoing training and passing down our know-how from generation to generation,” explains Manuel Alcino, current owner and great-great-grandson who shares the same name as the founder. “We have had two generations of families working in our workshop over 110 years. Occasionally we also receive apprentices so that they can be conveyors of this art.”In a space filled with wooden work benches and walls darkened by time, located on a discreet cobblestoned road not far from Bolhão, the tools, moulds and polishing cloths can be found pretty much everywhere, witnesses of the dedication and attention to detail that the artisans apply in the production of these magnificent pieces. Founded in 1902, Manuel Alcino & Filhos has since elevated silversmiths to an art form through personalisation, exclusivity and diversity in terms of creativity, making both classical pieces and modern objects, the result of the “interaction with great masters of architecture to sculpture, which provided an insight into the act of creating, as well as inspiration from animal and plant life, using materials like marble, ostrich egg, stones, coral or marine shells”. It was these influences that led various personalities, such as the architect Pádua Ramos, the sculptor Zulmiro de Carvalho and the visual artist Charters de Almeida, among others, to create contemporary pieces in silver for the exhibition “One silversmith and 7 artists” in 1993, displayed later at the National Museum of Ancient Art.The Portuguese brand also collaborated with the architect Siza Vieira in 2010 to create a silver and bisque (biscuit) object for Pope Benedict XVI, a gift presented during his visit to Portugal, and has always been involved in restoring and conceiving pieces of sacred art, projects by commission (such as a silver brick designed by Pedro Cabrita Reis, an impressive two-metre-high silver fountain weighing 150kg which can be admired at Ourivesaria da Moda in Lisbon, and various trophies for football clubs), tea sets, cutlery and decorative pieces, with the magnificent series of animals particularly worthy of mention, with delicate figures of horses, greyhounds, rhinoceros, bears and elephants resulting from the combination of silver and the most varied of materials. Although its work is widely known in Portugal, the quality of the brand has long been recognised further afield, captivating many European royal houses, particularly the Danish which, because of “a visit from our ambassador to Copenhagen, the curator of the Queen’s silver visited our facilities. He was enchanted by what he saw and wanted to take the entire workshop back to display in the Danish capital. He acquired some classical and contemporary pieces for the modern family”. This also led to an exhibition at the Amalienborg Palace in 2002, at the invitation of Margrethe II herself. Despite its popularity amongst the nobility of the old continent, Manuel Alcino & Filhos has begun to explore new markets in emerging countries and make further investment within Portugal, by opening a store right in the heart of Oporto, in the atrium of the Intercontinental Palácio das Cardosas Hotel, in order to be closer to the final customer. “Over the years, we have worked first for wholesalers and storers, then for the jewellers and now for the final customer. Therefore with the store, we have managed to have a permanent exhibition of our pieces and direct contact with the public,” proudly states Manuel Alcino. It may not be the most encouraging time, what with the economic climate, but the current owner of the brand notes that “we don’t like the word ‘crisis’. We could say it’s a change of societies’ consumer habits. We try to face the drop in sales with new markets and, above all, create items that people look for. However much work it gives us, we never say no to the challenge of a new project. What gives us pleasure is developing and completing new projects. We continue to work with schools and universities through partnerships, spreading know-how and receiving new trainees, helping them to fulfil their ideas”. Representing the fifth generation of his family, Manuel Alcino has been the loyal promoter of this endangered art and a tireless champion of the best that’s done in Portugal, having transformed the brand into an unquestionable international name in this field. Despite the number of artisans being much less than in the past, we can’t help but feel that the artisans in this ageing workshop breathe the love, dedication and skill in working with silver, projecting a brilliant future for Manuel Alcino & Filhos in a perfect “alliance between tradition and modernity”.