From Bacolod, to Baguio to Banuyo: The wondrous journey of Gedeon Buyco
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez () - November 24, 2011 - 12:00am

Gedeon Buyco grew up in Negros Occidental when its plantations were yielding sugar canes — and diamonds, so to speak. The harvest was so plentiful and the demand insatiable that Negros’ sugar barons and their ladies became Philippine royalty, awash in cash and diamonds. This was sweet success for the hacienderos of Negros.

 It was at this time, around 1959, that Gedeon Buyco’s mother Florentina Velez Lucasan and his godmother Elena Lucasan Ortaliz opened a jewelry and novelty shop in Bacolod. In their collection were the biggest (the average size ranged from 13 to 20 carats, and that was just average), almost flawless diamonds this side of the world. They also sold antique furniture and Ching dynasty porcelain jars sourced from foreign and local treasure troves. He remembers that when the hacienderas came to their shop, they would buy gems and stones by the scoopful. There were no security guards, no CCTV cameras. Opulence was a way of life in Negros.

Those were the days of the legendary Kahirup balls, where the Negrenses shone like neon lights as they twirled the night away on the dance floor. But Gedeon recalls that although the ladies of Negros were filthy rich, they loved to pay in installment. And so Gedeon was the one tasked to collect their monthly payments, thus forging a bond with his mother’s clientele. He began to know the market more and was exposed to their fine tastes. No one reneged on their payments, recalls Gedeon.

He remembers one particular incident in 1966 very well because he was dressed to the nines for it. It was one of the inaugural balls for newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos and his beautiful wife Imelda, and the Negrenses were hosting it in Silay, that stately plantation town in the outskirts of Bacolod.

Well, suffice it to say that the sugar baronesas went to the party “stoned” — as in wearing glittering stones the size of the old 25-centavo coin. There could have been a blackout during the party and the place would still have been well lit.

Imelda was said to be wearing the simplest of jewelry. It was the last night that she ever would be simple, according to Visayan legend. They say that night, Imelda allegedly vowed never to be outshone by anyone again, ever.

Then came the downfall of the sugar empire. One by one the sugar barons let go of their properties and their ladies sadly parted with their rocks. They would ask Gedeon’s mom and aunt to secretly sell their jewelry for them and made them promise never to reveal the identity of the seller. Some sold their heirloom furniture when they had to give up their mansions. Gedeon says he was taught that heirloom pieces were good investments — for you cannot doubt their authenticity especially when owners part with them with tears in their eyes. Gedeon recalls that part of the trust relationship his mother and aunt had with their clients was that they kept their sales confidential. Their jewelry and antique business thus survived even hard times.

Such was the world that Gedeon Buyco grew up in. After college, he worked with Philippine Airlines as part of its ground staff. Then he moved to Pan American Airlines. But the lure of his old life was irresistible.

“After a little over two decades, it seemed no one else in the family had interest in the antique business as most seemed focused on jewelry and sugar farming. I decided to go back to selling antiques,” Gedeon recalls.

In the early ‘80s, Gedeon ran Memorabilia Arta & Crafts, a showcase of over a thousand pieces of antiques that occupied half the third level of the Atrium in Makati City. Gedeon gave the business up when his father German Andrin Buyco passed away in 1998 and he had to return to Bacolod. After that, he got several contracts to do interiors and landscaping in Bacolod and Boracay. After three years, he journeyed on to Baguio to do more interiors for the vacation homes of the Villars (of Villar Recording Co. and Crossover), the Fernandez family of Victory Liner, among others.

In cool Baguio, Gedeon opened an antique shop anew, first in the Villar villa, and later into his own house near Brent School. It wasn’t long before the shop became a tourist attraction in Baguio (majority of his clients were from Manila) and so they set up another outlet along Leonard Wood Road.

But Gedeon’s odyssey was not to end in Baguio. After a few years, he and his mother decided to return to Manila and found a two-story, 650-sq.-meter building on the corner of Banuyo and Kamagong streets in Makati City, which was going to be the repository of their dreams and their fabulous antique collection.

The showroom houses furniture, antique jars, paintings, lamps, figurines, mirrors, vases, candelabras and candle holders, chests and anything used for interior furnishing. These rare pieces have been procured from all over mainland China and in the Mekong countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. A few made their way from France and Italy.

“Our agents do the sourcing of these rare finds. However, it takes years to procure all these from private individuals; especially the porcelain jars. I travelled abroad every quarter for the past two years to gather these collections. And every other month, to source heirloom pieces from Panay, Negros and Cebu; estates that have been witness to the glory days of the Kahirup Ball. These are few of the places in the archipelago where you’ll find original heirloom and antique pieces of great value.”

The opium beds are one-of-a-kind as well as the camphor aparadors, because it’s usually the chests that you’ll find displayed in other galleries. The latter are common home fixtures in Occidental Negros and Iloilo where the Buyco family hails from.

Estate furniture like an impeccably preserved Balinese armoire form part of the impressive bric-a-brac. Another eye-catching item utilizes the root of a rare tree better known as burl to become part of a dresser. These pieces have been sold by Bacolod heirs and heiresses when they transferred to smaller residences or escaped from war.

The main showroom has also accumulated the most extensive collection of blue-and-white Ching Dynasty porcelain jars as well as door panels and multi-colored porcelain jars.  

The second floor gallery, on the other hand, displays accent pieces like chairs, dressers, cabinets, carabao jar collections, Chinese screens and heirloom pieces from around the country and abroad. “All of these items are not easy to source. Most of the time, it’s a matter of luck. I can say that I have been lucky to have gotten hold of massive collections of pieces this rare.”

Nepalese masks in eclectic sizes and expressions adorn a partly-hidden section while serving trays, tea sets, birdcages, chandeliers, screen doors and a tall grandfather’s clock take their places at every nook and cranny.

There’s a bronze Buddha with silver inlay and a 150-year-old Chinese desk enjoying their bit of space with antique Ming Dynasty water jars that took two years to collect as a set. And next to it is a century-old family dining table made of Balayong and Tindalo wood.

Of another interest is a Florentine bedroom set and dressing table that was slightly marred by the original owner when she plucked a gemstone that was embedded in one of the joints. While most of the pieces come from the Old World, there are a few contemporary pieces like pots, millinery bags and frame holders that break the monotony.

The pious might be interested in an ivory collection of religious icons while collectors will be amazed by details such as table clocks and priceless Persian “qum” carpets that’s made from 100 percent silk and sells at $50,000 or more per piece!

While the showroom had been around for two years now, catering to art patrons and collectors through appointment, this must-see shop will formally open its doors to the public on Nov. 27.

Will Gedeon Buyco’s remarkable journey end in Banuyo? Hard to tell, for as long as Gedeon’s mind wanders, so will his treasure trove. So catch it while you can!

(The Buyco Heirlooms, Antiques, Arts & Crafts showroom is located at 9047 Kamagong Street in San Antonio, Makati City. For more information, simply call tel. no. 403-3021.)

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