The Ancient Art of Filigree

One of the most beautiful and unusual things in jewelry today is the art of filigree.  Take a look at these earrings in pink quartz, pink sapphires and white diamonds.  The fabulous and delicate details you can see are called filigree. 

Filigree is a very delicate, complicated and detailed work made from gold, silver, or other fine twisted wire. It is used to decorate and beautify jewellery by adding a graceful touch, as you can se above. Filigree can only be made by hand so it is very rare and costly. The final piece is made up of different smaller parts that are later joined together. This art form was very popular at the period of Classical Rome and Greece. However it is also found in the Middle East and Asia. 

Though today filigree has become a special branch of jewelry work, it was not always so. During ancient times, it was just part of the ordinary work of the jeweler. Today it is only a handful specialized craftsmen that are able to train and do this type of work. 

The first time filigree appears is in Egyptian times. They did not practice it much, so the next big discovery of filigree was in ornaments derived from Phoenician excavation sites, such as Cyprus and Sardinia,where they were found to have patterns of gold wire laid down with great delicacy on a gold ground.  

Phoenician gold filigree set

The art, however, was advanced to its highest perfection in the Greek and Etruscan filigree of the 6th to the 3rd centuries BC. A number of earrings and other personal ornaments found in central Italy are preserved in the Louvre and in the British Museum. Almost all of them are made of filigree work. Some earrings are in the form of flowers of geometric design, bordered by one or more rims each made up of minute volutes of gold wire, and this kind of ornament is varied by slight differences in the way of disposing the number or arrangement of the volutes.

Etruscan filigree gold stud

Moving forward in time, we may notice in many collections of medieval jewel work (such as that in the South Kensington Museum) reliquaries, covers for the gospels, etc., made either in Constantinople from the 6th to the 12th centuries, or in monasteries in Europe, in which Byzantine goldsmiths work was studied and imitated. These objects, besides being enriched with precious stones, polished, but not cut into facets, and with enamel, are often decorated with filigree. Large surfaces of gold are sometimes covered with scrolls of filigree soldered on; and corner pieces of the borders of book covers, or the panels of reliquaries, are not unfrequently made up of complicated pieces of plaited work alternating with spaces encrusted with enamel. Byzantine filigree work occasionally has small stones set amongst the curves or knots. 

Much of the medieval jewel work all over Europe down to the 15th century, on reliquaries, crosses, croziers and other ecclesiastical goldsmiths work, is set off with bosses and borders of filigree. Filigree work in silver was practiced by the Moors of Spain during the middle ages with great skill, and was introduced by them and established all over the Peninsula, whence it was carried to the Spanish colonies in America. The Spanish filigree work of the 17th and 18th centuries is of extraordinary complexity and silver filigree jewelry of delicate and artistic design is still made in considerable quantities throughout the country. 

Filigree is still made all over Italy, and in Malta, Albania, the Ionian Islands and many other parts of Greece and Cyprus. In Ecuador, where I am originally from, the city of Cuenca is well known for its world quality filigree products.

Designing jewelry is not just selecting gems and hoping for the best.  It is also knowing about history, and keeping beautiful traditions alive for future generations. Hope you enjoyed learning about the history of this marvelous art, which I love so much and still inspires me to this day. 

Love Always
Dani K

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