From bird boxes to home decor, filigree has been used as a beautiful decorative art for centuries. Perhaps one of the most exciting uses of filigree, however, is in jewelry. The lace-like details, delicate openwork and curled threads of metal make filigree jewelry an exceptional work of wearable art. While filigree is utilized today in many jewelers’ designs, its use actually dates back to antiquity — presenting us with a truly rich history. Join us as we walk through some of the important moments in the creation and adoration of filigree jewelry.
This breathtaking ring boasts a brilliant 24.39-carat fire opal cabochon centerpiece displayed in a rare and beautiful design. An eye-catching array of 157 stunning melee diamonds weighing 2.74 carats total accent this vibrant orange opal. Crafted of 18K yellow gold, the antique opal ring setting boasts a unique and elegant filigree motif.
Relics of ancient filigree design have been found in Mesopotamia, dating the technique as far back as 3,000 BC. The meticulous craft of soldering twisted metals became a common popular art for Mesopotamian craftsmen. These artisans preferred the use of gold and silver wire specifically, a kind of filigree technique called telkari. This method is still used today within the region.
Filigree found popularity in ancient Grecian jewelry from the influences of Mesopotamian craftsmen. Delicate pieces of jewelry dominated the market and filigree designs in gold were often used. Jewelry worn by ancient Grecians were most often used as a sign of social status, as a ward against evil, and for celebrating of the gods — typically by women of wealthy classes.
A technique called granulation was used alongside filigree in ancient Grecian jewelry. In granulation, tiny spheres of metal are soldered together creating the illusion of many miniscule grains being held together. Granulation is still common today; the use of both techniques side by side has created an complex and beautiful look that has lasted thousands of years.
Early artisans in modern day India mastered the craft of filigree jewelry making. It is not known if a Greek influence or traditional work sparked the use of filigree, but it is true that the lace-like quality and fine details that are found in early Asian filigree jewelry are present and popular today.
This captivating Edwardian era antique ring is centered by a dazzling 1.25-carat diamond that is beautifully set between two Old European-cut diamonds totaling approximately 2.00 carats. A classic Edwardian platinum filigree mounting embedded with additional diamond accents totaling 0.25 carats surrounds the precious gems.
Ushering a new period of opulence and lavishness from 1901 to 1910, King Edward and his wife, Queen Alexandra, popularized platinum mounting and filigree settings in jewelry. The royal couple’s favorite colors included green and purple. Edwardian style filigree mountings featuring green garnets, amethysts, peridots and emeralds were often used. Also popular were monochromatic rings that used white or colorless diamonds on bright, platinum settings. And since platinum is a much stronger metal than both silver and gold, it is easier to manipulate into delicate, yet ornate filigree patterns. Platinum continued to be the most commonly used metal in filigree jewelry until World War I when platinum was instead needed for weaponry.
Expanding from the Art Nouveau phase, the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s brought popularity to geometric patterns, antique diamonds and platinum. An age of extravagance and post-war fun created an environment for new designs and modernization of jewelry. Cocktail rings, brooches and bar pins were especially popular pieces that used filigree.
The process of creating filigree jewelry did change during the Art Deco period, however. Instead of painstakingly soldering twisted metal wires, die-cast machinery created these beloved cut out shapes. Two steel blocks press a sheet of metal with a design, which allowed for more jewelry to be produced. It also makes sure that the jewelry is not too heavy; even though filigree jewelry looks intricate and complex, it is very light and wearable.
The city of Cuttack in India is known for their exceptionall work in a specialized kind of filigree called tarakasi. Tarakasi artisans use wire alloys of 90% or more pure silver to create their masterful jewelry and objet d’art. Instead of using die-cast for their making, tarakasi artisains continue to use the traditional method of soldering. These wonderful creations often feature animals, birds and flowers in their designs.
Many design houses today feature filigree in their repertoire of techniques for gem settings, chains and pendants. The delicate look and lacework designs boast a lasting style that has evolved and grown for over 5,000 years.
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