The word filigree derives from Latin “filum” meaning thread and “granum” grain. It is a form of intricate metalwork, usually made of gold or silver. The Latin words gave filigrana in Italian which itself became filigrane in 17th-century French and shortened from filigreen in English.
The technique consists of using tiny beads or twisted threads, sometimes both, soldering them together or to the surface of an object, such as a bracelet or brooch for example. The result is a highly artistic and detailed work of art.
Its origins can be traced back to the Egyptians and along the coast of the Mediterranean. Archaeological digs have found the technique to be incorporated into jewellery dating as far back as 3,000BC.
“Necklace in gold filigree of Queen Twosret and earrings of her husband Seti II. Discovered with a cache of jewellery inscribed with the names of Seti II and Twosret in the Gold Tomb (KV56) at the Valley of the Kings, West Thebes.
The cornflower and ball beads in this necklace were made by soldering wire rings of several different diameters into the desired forms. The piece is an early example of the technique known as filigree. New Kingdom, Late 19th Dynasty, ca. 1292- 1189 BC. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.”
It was greatly used by Portuguese goldsmiths, using both gold and silver filigree.
The elaborate metalwork also included techniques such as granulation, wire and scroll.
The small beads are applied to the surface through heat with visible solder. This technique was used by the Etruscan civilisation of ancient Italy in Tuscany, western Umbria and
northern Lazio (700-300 BC). Its style was made famous with Etruscan revival jewellery, modelled after the ancient Roman empire. The most famous jewellery designer to create Etruscan Revival pieces was Castellani.
“The head in the form of a thyrsus, an ancient Greek stylised pine cone, with twisted wirework decorations, bearing Castellani’s double C’s hallmark on the base, all to a yellow gold pin, circa 1860, measuring 2.5 x 1.1cm, the pin measuring 4.9cm long, gross weight 4.7 grams.
A collectable stick pin in the shape of a pinecone, made in London around 1860 by Castellani. This charming pin features twisted wirework filigree decoration, a technique used in Ancient Etruscan jewellery, and would today make a perfect and eye-catching addition to a silk tie.”
Though it is an ancient jewellery technique, it is still frequently used in today’s jewellery, especially in Asia and particularly in Indian jewellery.
The technique should not be confused with cannetille. Filigree’s fragility and delicateness suggests lace, in a flat form. Cannetille has a 3-dimensional aspect to it, sometimes with added repoussé work to it – which is a method of hammering metal into relief from the reverse side.
There was a renewed popularity for filigree in Italia and France between 1660 to the late 19th century, with the fashion reaching its peak in 1830.
A decade later, the precise and time-consuming technique of filigree and cannetille had been replaced by repoussé, which offered a similarly inexpensive artistic and decorative way of setting stones.
Like many metalwork techniques, its origin is far behind us but its use and technique are forever evolving. It is understandable that this craftmanship would be a favourite for different cultures
and throughout time. Though some modern pieces of that style may be inexpensive, the cost of purchasing a traditional parure reflects the art and the know-how that is filigree.
“A fine Georgian citrine and gold parure, consisting of a necklace, a pair of earrings and a pair of bracelets, the necklace consisting of an oval-cut faceted citrine surrounded by a gold frame of foliate design, suspending three detachable drop-like pendants, each centrally-set with a pear-shaped citrine, all suspended by a double strand of tubular mesh chain with box clasp of similar
design, set with an oval faceted citrine, each bracelet with a clasp of similar design, each centrally set with an oval faceted citrine, to a gold mesh ribbon-like bracelet, the earrings of matching gold foliate design consisting of an oval-cut faceted citrine suspending a pear-shaped faced citrine, all mounted in yellow and rose gold, circa 1820, accompanied by original fitted box, the necklace measuring approximately 38cm long, gross weight for the suite 71.5 grams.” Selling for £37,500