ARTICLE - WHAT IS FILIGREE?

Antique filigree wedding rings from the early 1900s have become very popular in recent years.

The term filigree is derived from Italian word filigrana, which is originally from the Latin word filum, meaning a thread of wire and granum meaning a grain or bead. Early practices of wirework jewelry and decorative items were created using small pieces of metal or granules for design.

Filigree is the ancient form of decoration on metal ware created by shaping fine wire into delicate or intricate designs. These designs may be either openwork or backed work. The wire may be plain, twisted, untwisted or plaited. The metals used are generally gold, silver, platinum or bronze. Filigree usage may be tracked back to metal work from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Etruria, Greece and Byzantium. Antique jewelry pieces have been found embellished with enamel in ancient Greece, Hungary and Russia.

There are four basic structural ways to create filigree. The first type is openwork, where the design does not have a backing and is generally constructed with a heavier wire. Wires are soldered together at points to hold the design together. The second type is ground-supported, where a supporting surface is used and all wire points are soldered to a surface which is most frequently sheet metal. The third type combines openwork and ground-supported types, so that the completed types of openwork wires are attached to sheet metal. Attachment types could be non-soldering methods, such as split rivets, rivets, bezels, or claws. The fourth type is when a material is added to fill between the wires, such as enamel.

Most design styles are linear because wire is the main material. Small wires are often patterned into areas built within the borders of larger areas. The larger areas will give the jewelry piece structure and strength, while the smaller areas will be used for a more decorative purpose. In traditional methods the wires will never overlap, however, the wires may come close to or next to other wires. Structural frames are always used in openwork styles, whereas, in ground supported design function is visual and not functional. The wire strand may be used to frame the section or the wire may be used to give a pattern or area filler.

The shaping of the wire is a simple process and does not require complex utensils. Tweezers, pliers and hands are used to shape wires. Cold chisels or wire cutters are used for cutting.

Finger rings from the early 1900s are created with openwork designs. These rings may use either bezel set or prong set gemstones for embellishment. During the Art Deco Jewelry Period of the 1920s and 1930s openwork filigree wedding and engagement rings would have diamonds or sapphires mounted with an open backing. Wedding rings would focus on usage of geometric and abstract designs and patterns. In rings from the early 1900s, wire would also be shaped to form hearts, flowers, blossoms or even stars. Rings would also be embellished with engraved or stamped designs.

Filigree jewelry continues to be produced in traditional methods and designs in many countries around the world.

 

What is Filigree?
Antique Wedding Rings at Ten Two Three Estate Jewelry

By: Chris Cosby

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