What is Milgrain?

April 22, 2020 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Milgrain is one of the most popular terms in jewelry and yet most people have no idea what it is. In this article the Estate Diamond Jewelry Experts are going to explain everything that you need to know about Milgrain.

What is Milgrain?

Double Halo Aquamarine Ring on Model Finger Close Up Sapphire Diamond Halo

Milgrain is the tiny metal beads that can be applied to the edges of jewelry. In general, milgrain is applied to jewelry in order to give it a more rustic and vintage feel. Jewelry during the Edwardian era and Art Deco era were renown for their use of milgrain.

Milgrain comes from a French word and means “one thousand grains”. Milgrain is sometimes spelled as milgrain or millgrain. Occasionally, it will even be spelled as milgraine. The word’s origin describes what appears to be rows of tiny grains along the edges of many vintage jewelry pieces.

Milgrain is actually tiny metal beads, sometimes individually applied in rows along the edge of the metal. Most milgrain uses precious metals like gold or platinum, but the same effect can be created with silver and other metals as well.

Milgrain is sometimes applied to all the edges of a piece of jewelry or alternatively to only small sections. The amount of milgrain used will vary based on the designer, the style (and era) of the jewelry piece, and the request of the client.

How to Apply Milgrain to Jewelry

Milgrain Wheel for Jewelry
A traditional Milgrain Wheel

Jewelers apply milgrain to a jewelry piece 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 is rolled over the metal edges 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.

Genuine vintage engagement rings with milgrain have all been crafted using one of these two aforementioned methods, as this was all that was available to jewelry-makers 100 years ago.

Since then, however, more advanced tools have been invented to create milgrain on engagement rings, earrings, and other jewelry. Laser’s and advanced technology are now the optimum way to create milgrain.

The jewelry purest and vintage enthusiasts, however, will say that the only way to do milgrain correctly is to do it the way that the expert jewelers did it in the 1920s.

The Historical Significance of Milgrain

Milgrain on Engagement Ring
An example of milgrain on an engagement ring

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.

How to Take Care of Milgrain?

Engagement Ring next to Jewelry Cleaner

Unfortunately, milgrain has a limited lifespan and will eventually wear away. The best thing you can do is try to avoid scratching the ring and rubbing against it.

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.

Please note that milgraining a piece of jewelry (so long as it is done by an expert) shouldn’t harm the ring nor the integrity of the provenance.

Milgrain on Engagement Rings

milgrain in engagement ring

Engagement Rings, especially vintage engagement rings, will commonly have a border of milgrain. The milgrain acts as a crown or border to highlight the center diamond (or stone).

This technique became common during the Edwardian Era and is still very common today.

Click here to view our collection of milgrain engagement rings.

Examples of Milgrain in Jewelry

Milgrain Close Up Picture
Close Up shot of Milgrain

We have lots of examples of jewelry that have milgrain inside. Here are a few examples. Click on the links and you will be able to see zoomed-in examples on the product page.