Eighty-nine-year-old Simón Villanueva lay a thread of shiny silver wire across the width of his decaying wooden workbench. He cut the strand into six pieces of equal length, and used pincers to twirl them into tiny, tightly-wound bulbs no larger than small beads before carefully wedging each of them into the frame of a six-petal flower.
“I’ve gotten used to having poor vision,” Villanueva told me as he put on his thick, black-rimmed glasses. The oldest jeweler in Mompox, Colombia, has been perfecting his craft for 77 years and has largely learned to work with just his hands at this point—an ability that has served him well as his vision has faded with age. At 89, he looks twenty years younger, still able to twist and plait fine strands of silver to produce the looping, intricate designs of his imagination: little fish earrings, a bracelet with a flower pendant, a necklace carrying a small sombrero vueltiao (the signature cowboy hat of Colombia). No two pieces are the same, and he keeps hundreds of his glittering, unsold ornaments in a glass case on shelves laden with red velvet padding.
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