Local jewelry-maker Nikos Vassilaras uses hand tools to sculpt and engrave his pieces of art. He is one of just a hand-full of traditional jewelers on the island that still uses techniques that date back centuries.
The 72-year-old jeweler comes from a lineage of goldsmiths on the island.
“Over the years, from our family, there were about 10 jewelers on the island,” Vassilaras explained, and they date back as far as 1780.
“Some of them were specialized in silversmithing and covering icons with silver in the church, or doing different handmade items with filigree and with jewels,” he said, according to ABC News.
Many of the traditional motifs that Vassilaras uses in his handcrafted jewelry are inspired by the ancient traditional symbols of Rhodes that are found on ancient pottery, a deer and a rose.
When he was just nine-years-old, he started observing his father at his jewelry workshop. “My father gave me tools and started teaching me goldsmithing” explained Vassilaras. “He also gave me the opportunity to have lessons with a painter to learn how to draw.”
After studying the craft at the prestigious German school of Pforzheim, Vassilaras returned to Rhodes and opened his own shop in 1970 in Old Town.
Nikos Vassilaras continues to offer tourists a piece of traditional Rhodes and his family’s legacy until today, even though times have been rough for his business.
Even though tourism is booming on the island and throughout Greece, the market for handmade jewelry has seen a sharp decline. Tourists are less willing to pay for the unique, one-of-a-kind handmade treasures and prefer manufactured pieces as souvenirs.
All-inclusive hotels play a part in he downfall of traditional jewelery shops staying a float financially, Vassilaras noted. They often offer on site boutiques and shops that have mass manufactured jewelry that tourists opt to buy.
“All those hotels you see around the island, big hotels with 1,500 beds are filled by offering all-inclusive offers. Many of the resorts have everything a tourist would need, including stores and markets,” Vassilaras added.
The current declining market demand for handcrafted jewelry in Greece has left Vassilaras to subsidize his workshop and store income by renting out an apartment he purchased in Old Town.