What is Filigree? July 15, 2014 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

We will try and give you a basic rundown in this article on what is filigree, along with the exact definition and history. True fans of rare and antique diamond jewelry know that filigree is one of the cornerstone trademarks of most vintage eras.

What is Filigree?

Filigree is a delicate jewelry embellishment in which fine, pliable threads of precious metal are twisted or curled into a design and then soldered onto (or into) a piece of jewelry.

The definition of the word filigree comes from the word “filigreen”. Filigreen derives from the Latin word “filum” meaning thread and “granum” which means grain. Grain is a reference to the small beads.

When referring to jewelry filigree, jewelers have a very specific rendering that sometimes doesn’t correlate with the generic terminology.

These designs can take the shape of gorgeous scroll-work, lacy flourishes, symmetrical Art-Deco style designs, and other fascinating motifs. Filigree is used with all pliable metals and isn’t limited to the expensive and precious metals.

Some people spell filigree as filligree or fillagree.

History of Filigree

Openwork Filigree Example from Back of Ring
Note the openwork filigree on the under-gallery of the ring mounting

Filigree is as old as jewelry. Archeologists have unearthed filigree jewelry from the ancient Mesopotamians that is dated approximately 5,000 years old. In Asia and India, it has been a strong part of their jewelry for millennia.

Filigree still remains overtly popular on that side of the world. Often it can seem similar to hand-engraved jewelry, but it is actually the exact opposite.

Engraving involves sculpting or carving away at a piece of jewelry for decorative effect, while filigree is the process of laying metal embellishment on top of a piece. Sometimes filigree is accompanied by milgrain.

How is Filigree Made?

Making Filigree
The jeweler uses a special machine to create long strips for filigree

There are a few important steps that a jeweler needs to make in order to create filigree. Here is the outline:

  1. The jewelry stretches the metal until he has a very fine thread.
  2. The jeweler heats the thread-like metal to soften it (alternatively he uses tools in order to force the hardened metal)
  3. When the metal reaches the desired shape, the jeweler will solder the filigree to the rest of the metal
  4. Usually, jewelry that contains any filigree will have many other pieces of filigree

More often than not, he will connect many such pieces together. Other times he may also add small metal beads as well. The final step may also include melting the threads together with a blow-torch.

There is another way to create the effect of filigree and that requires the jeweler to cut out whole from a solid piece of metal. Many of the smaller designs in jewelry openwork designs may have been created this way.

Jewelry Flattening strips of Platinum

In antique jewelry, most of the filigree will be openwork filigree. Openwork filigree will display space between each piece.

Famous Examples of Filigree Jewelry

Filigree is one of the most frequent elements of antique jewelry. It is for that reason that it isn’t too hard to find many notable examples of filigree jewelry.

Belle Epoque Diamond Filigree Pendant
This Belle Epoque Pendant (circa 1900) was sold by Christie’s in 2017

More examples coming soon!

Examples of Filigree

Filigree can be found in modern jewelry and in antique jewelry. Because the jewelers during the 1920-1940s were far superior to the jewelers of today, we will show examples of filigree from antique jewelry.

Art Deco Engagement Ring with Filigree
Note the strips of filigree shown on the shoulders of the ring
Engagement Ring with Detailed Filigree
Visible Filigree on Side View of Ring

In this ring, shown above, the openwork filigree creates a pattern that folds underneath the ring and also bridges towards the shoulders. This style of filigree on the under-gallery is very common with antique and vintage engagement rings.

If you pay attention to the details you will usually see soldering marks where one piece of metal meets the next one.

Filigree is commonplace on antique rings. Below are a few close-up examples of the filigree. Some of the examples come from older rings. Age softens the details. The examples of the antique ring show the patina over the craftsmanship.

Engagement Ring in clamps
Close up filigree on Asscher cut ring
Cushion cut engagement ring with filigree
Wedding Band with Filigree

Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below!

To learn more about antique jewelry, click here.