The abundance of minerals and semi-precious stones in Peru have made it possible to develop creative metalwork since pre-Hispanic times. The oldest example of goldsmithy in South America dates back to the Chavín culture (1,000 BC). Later, priceless pieces were found in the areas of Chancay, Paracas and Cusco, as well as superb work done by the Mochica, Chimú and Lambayeque cultures.
In the late 1,980s archaeologists discovered the Royal Tombs of the Lord of Sipán corresponding to the Moche culture (600-1 200 AD). The tomb of the warrior priest featured ceremonial dress and ornaments worked in gold with techniques that were highly advanced for the time. These techniques, used even today by artisans working with jewels, sculptured pieces and utensils, include alloys, smelting with laminated pieces, chiseling, soaking, smelting gold threads, filigree, and applications, incrustations and clasps.
The most important centers of silver artisanry are to be found in the departments of Junín, Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Cusco. Silversmiths, who have kept alive the colonial tradition, develop a wide variety of shapes and motifs, crafting jewelry in the shape of barnyard animals, peacocks, horses and stars, as well as articles for religious and domestic use. Other important pieces in silverwork include wrought silver pinches in colonial Cusco style, tupus, or brooches to pin together the llicllas, silver alloy necklaces worked in black onyx and bamboo, silver necklaces inlaid with obsidian, earrings fitted with opals of several colors, and burnished silver in colonial style, as well as framed in wood for paintings and mirrors.
This goldsmithy technique involves thinning the gold to minimum proportions to thread it together, creating jewels of extraordinary beauty. The town of Catacaos in Piura, heirs to the Vicus culture, is a major production center of the delicate art of filigree. The most commonly-produced pieces are dormilonas, a type of earring, and necklaces, which often feature the moon motif.
Other materials used in arts and crafts, especially in jewelry, are chosen from a vast variety of semi-precious stones, many of which found in Peru, while others are imported, like in the pre-Hispanic era, from elsewhere in the Americas in what is today Colombia and Ecuador. Generally these stones, the most spectacular of which are Peruvian turquoise, or crisocola, onyx, obsidian and opal, are used to make necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets. Nor should one forget the use of the traditional red seashell called spondylus, once called "the sacred food of the gods", used to craft superb pieces of jewelry.