What is Milgrain? January 27, 2016 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog
Milgrain, a word that comes from French, means “one thousand grains”. Milgrain is sometimes spelled as millegrain or millgrain. The term describes what appears to be rows of tiny grains along the edges of many vintage jewelry pieces.
Those small grains are actually tiny metal beads, sometimes individually applied in rows along the edge of a metal. Most milgrain uses precious metals like gold or platinum, but can be created with silver and other metals as well. Milgrain is sometimes applied to all the edges of a ring and sometimes to only small sections.
Applying Milgrain to Jewelry
Milgrain can be fashioned into the engagement ring in several ways.
The traditional method is called knurling and involves using a milgrain wheel. The milgrain wheel has small, serrated rotating wheels set into a handle that are rolled over the metal to produce the tiny grain effect.
Another more difficult and time consuming method is soldering. Soldering requires patient work done over a long period of time. Each tiny grain needs to be individually attached to the jewelry’s frame.
Today’s vintage engagement rings with milgrain have all been crafted using one of these two methods, as they were the only ones available to jewelry makers 100 years ago. Since then, however, more advanced tools have been invented to create milgrain engagement rings, earrings, and other jewelry.
The Historical Significance of Milgrain
Milgrain was first used in Southeast Asian jewelry, and remains popular in both Indian and Chinese metalwork. The delicacy of Edwardian era jewelry lent itself to the fine detailing of milgrain. Jewelers during the Edwardian period frequently used milgrain.
During the Art Deco period, jewelers occasionally incorporated milgrain to add intricacy to bold geometric designs. Jewelers during the Retro and Victorian era used very little milgrain in their jewelry. Because milgrain required enormous effort, artistry, and technique to create, the jewelry are considered more valuable.
Unfortunately, milgrain has a limited lifespan and will eventually wear away. If jewelry is worn frequently, like the daily wear demanded of some milgrain engagement rings, the milgrain will need to be restored about once every decade. While the expense isn’t significant, restoration is an important part of routine milgrain maintenance.
Acquiring and showcasing fine milgrain engagement rings is a passion of ours at Estate Diamond Jewelry. Let us know what you think about milgrain and these beautiful rings by commenting below.