The art of filigree is an ancient jewellery-making technique that has its roots as far back as 3,000 BC. With beginnings in Mesopotamia, the term is derived from two Latin words; filum (thread) and granum (grain), which refers to the tiny beads that were used in filigree jewellery.
Dubbed as one of the most intriguing jewellery-making techniques still in use today, filigree involves twisting fine metal threads into elaborate latticework – in a much smaller scale. These fine metal pieces are soldered together to create a larger piece, depending on the jewellery design blueprints. Sometimes, filigree works will be combined with precious stones to create dazzling pieces like rings and necklaces.
There are two types of filigree that are determined by the structure of its make. The ‘surface filigree’ is where the metal threads are twisted and shaped, and then soldered to create the embroidery-like surface. ‘Open-work filigree’ on the other hand is where the jewel is built up by the actual weaving of the threads.
The latter injects a sense of lightness and a pleasant quality to chunkier jewelleries. Rings, bangles, statement necklaces and large earrings are some of the precious pieces that employ the idea of filigree to elevate comfort. This technique is also used to create minute detailing and delicate embellishments.
In the early 1800s, coloured gemstones were often used together with elaborate filigree. Open-work techniques such as the cannetille (spiral) and graniti (granule) were employed to create beautiful gold jewellery using minimum precious metal.
Iconic brands like Chanel, Chopard, Roberto Coin and Van Cleef & Arpels have been using this technique religiously in creating their repertoire of jewelleries over the years. Chanel employs this technique to their range of earrings during the 60s. Chopard’s majestic rose gold Imperiale ring uses filigree to add a graceful flair while the Van Cleef & Arpels’ 1951 emerald and diamond “Zip” bracelet with yellow gold heart trim showcases the creative use of filigree to bring sophistication into a piece of jewellery.
Some of the finest examples of filigree jewellery hailed from the early 1900s, especially during the Art Deco period. Delicate patterns that were previously used for most larger items like rings and other items of worship had developed into the making of refined pieces like bracelets and pendant necklaces.
Over the years, this technique has evolved with contemporary designers like Zaha Hadid translating the art into intricate cellular structures and geometric patterns. This births to modern sculptural jewellery pieces.
And with the rise of 3D printing technology, the making of jewellery pieces are now featuring more complex forms and shapes, but still retains the essence of the filigree art – the formation of intricate shapes using the fundamentals of geometry.
This art has got its admirers all over the world. Filigree jewellery requires meticulous and delicate skills and the hours spent simply on shaping the characteristics of a precious piece. Despite its lack of popularity and awareness, this technique exists in everything revolving metalworks.
Even today, many jewellery makers and designers continue to use this ancient technique to great effect. The filigree technique has undeniably helped create some of the most iconic jewelleries in the world, and changed the way contemporary ones are made.