Complete Guide to Filigree Jewelry

July 28, 2022 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

There’s hardly any piece of jewelry more authentic than antique filigree jewelry. True fans of vintage jewelry (especially Victorian and Edwardian) are almost always also passionate about filigree. If you’re one of them or you want to dedicate a piece to your loved one, we’ll help you make the best choice. 

Below we share the complete history of filigree jewelry, explain how these precious pieces are made, provide buying tips, and much more. 

What Is Filigree?

Openwork Filigree Example from Back of Ring

Filigree is a form of intricate metalwork in jewelry achieved by shaping delicate wire pieces into designs. Filigree jewelry comes in different shapes, styles, and materials. 

Merriam-Webster defines filigree as “ornamental work of fine wire formed into delicate tracery.” 

The name comes from the word “filum,” meaning thread, and “granum,” which means grain, and describes the metal strips used for filigree construction. 

Filigree Definition

Filigree is a form of intricate metalwork used in both jewelry and other forms of metalwork. Filigree is usually used in platinum, gold, and silver and is crafted using twisted threads that are either soldered together or to the surface of an object.

Brief History of Filigree in Jewelry

Visible Filigree on Side View of Ring

Filigree jewelry pieces originated in Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece and date from more than 5,000 years BC. However, it took more than 6,500 years for filigree jewelry to become fashionable. The French fashion of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries started promoting the pieces until they reached a peak in popularity during the Art Deco period in the 1920s.  

Throughout history, the filigree was not only used to create jewelry. These pieces also took part in the iron railing and household item fabrication. Bowls, plates, light fixtures, and lamps were all made using filigree for centuries. The essence of filigree lies in metal manipulation, so pretty much every metal could be used in the process, including copper, iron, silver, gold, or platinum. 

But more on the filigree construction process below. 

How Is Filigree Made?

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

The philosophy behind filigree is fairly simple in theory. It consists of delicate manipulations of thin metal strips. The strips are twisted and woven to achieve beautiful details and texture. In practice, it takes a lot of time and skill to create a filigree piece. 

The work begins by stretching metal into threadlike thin strips. This is a time-consuming task. Many jewelers perform this part of the job by hand even today. More modern-technology-oriented professionals rely on machines for strip creation. 

When the jewelers form the strips, they start working with one piece at a time. They can use heated tools to soften the construction and then twist it or manipulate it until reaching a desired design or shape. The wires can be shaped with pliers, tweezers, or hands. As for the cutting, jewelers use wire cutters or cold chisels. 

After reaching the desired shape, the jeweler solders the piece to the metal base. 

This process is repeated as many times as required to reach the final design. 

Most filigree design styles are linear since the wire is the main material. Smaller wires get patterned into areas within the borders of larger areas. These large areas give the piece strength and structure, while the small ones are mainly used for decorative purposes. 

Some more traditional craftsmanship methods include filigree lines that don’t overlap, while others may include them closer together or one on top of another.

Shop Filigree Engagement Rings

Feel free to shop through our examples of Filigree Engagement Rings. Click here to view all of our engagement rings.

  • Antique Diamond and Platinum Ring Highbridge Ring Top View
    Highbridge Ring. Circa 1930 (Vintage, Art Deco Era)
    $6,500
  • 1.73ct Old European Cut Diamond Ring - Smithfield Ring 13640 TV
    Smithfield Ring. Circa 1925 (Antique, Art Deco Era)
    $15,000
  • Old European Cut Diamond Engagement Ring - Callaway Ring
    Callaway Ring. Circa 1950 (Vintage, Retro Era)
    SOLD
  • Retro French White Gold Engagement Ring - Belmont Ring
    Belmont Ring. Circa 1945 (Vintage, Retro Era)
    SOLD
  • Edwardian Platinum Ring Torrance Ring. 13264
    Torrance Ring. Circa 1900
    SOLD
  • Edwardian 2.50 Carat Old European Diamond Ring - Middletown Ring 13842 TV
    Middletown Ring. Circa 1910 (Antique, Edwardian Era)
    SOLD

Openwork Filigree vs. Metal Supported Filigree

Art Deco Engagement Ring with Filigree

Filigree designs come in two types: openwork and metal-supported. 

In the openwork design, there’s no backing of the filigree piece. The metal thread is made from heavier wires that are soldered next to each other, so they hold the design together. 

Metal-supported or ground-supported designs include a surface that supports wire points by being soldered to them. That surface is usually sheet metal, so that’s why we call this design type metal-supported. 

There are combinations where the openwork and ground-supported type are mixed. Also, there can be an additional material added between the wires, like enamel, which is an alternative to the previously mentioned designs. 

What to Look Out for When Buying Filigree Jewelry

Sapphire and Diamond Earrings with Wirework and Filigree

Delicate filigree designs are ideal for romantic rings and jewelry pieces. But much like when it comes to any other jewelry, there are important things to know about choosing the best filigree element. Its delicate nature is an important element to consider, especially in terms of maintenance. 

The surface of the filigree should be neat and feature straight lines. Also, the filigree piece shouldn’t have sharp edges, as they can catch on things and result in faster jewelry wear and tear. 

Also, you may want to avoid 24k gold filigree creations. The higher the carat in gold, the softer the metal will be. This can leave the ring more prone to breakage. You may want to go with a lower karat gold or platinum to prolong the jewelry’s lifespan. 

Avoid bad soldering work that’s too thick and looks ugly. Also, the soldering can be too thin and have insufficient support, making it too delicate. 

Pros and Cons of Using Filigree in Jewelry

While filigree jewelry is a dream-like piece for some, it may not be the best choice for others. To help you better understand the difference, we created a pros and cons list for this type of jewelry. 

Pros

  • Vintage filigree pieces are handcrafted and therefore unique.
  • The filigree method gives shine to a jewelry piece without adding gemstones.
  • It’s an inexpensive way of creating stunning jewelry. 
  • The ornate design of filigree draws attention to the center stone or element. It also makes smaller diamonds seem larger. 
  • Filigree makes the jewelry romantic and adds an antique touch that’s perfect for vintage fashionistas.  
  • It’s an excellent option for both women’s and men’s jewelry. 
  • Men’s filigree wedding rings allow stunning ornaments to take place without looking too flashy. 

Cons 

  • The biggest drawback of filigree is that it’s only suitable for antique-jewelry lovers. People with modern taste may not appreciate the designs. 
  • Care and maintenance can be challenging due to the complex designs. 
  • Maintenance can cost a lot, depending on the piece. Sometimes, it can’t even be replaced in case of breakage. 
  • Some handmade pieces can cost a fortune depending on the work and materials needed for their completion. 

Gold Filigree vs. Platinum Filigree

Engagement Ring with Detailed Filigree

Platinum is an excellent choice for filigree jewelry. It’s a more durable metal than gold and has a better overall design. The main downside is its price since it’s one of the most expensive metals out there. 

When it comes to gold, there are numerous options to consider. As previously mentioned, the 24k gold isn’t a good option given its soft and delicate structure. The 14k gold is a better option because of its alloy structure, much like the 10k version. 

Still, platinum wins the race when it comes to base metal material for filigree rings and other jewelry. 

Filigree vs. Milgrain vs. Engraving

13852 Diagram of Milgrain Filigree and Engraving artistic

People across the web use different terms to describe metal-manipulation techniques and often use them interchangeably – filigree, milgrain, and engraving. However, these terms aren’t the same. 

Filigree refers to bending and coiling tiny metal wire pieces into patterns and soldering them onto a metal surface. Milgrain is the edging of small bumps and indents applied to the borders of a design. Finally, engraving refers to cutting grooves into the jewelry’s surface to create a pattern or image.  

Popular and Simple Filigree Designs

Now that we’ve covered the basics of filigree jewelry, how it’s made, and what its advantages and disadvantages are, you should have a clear idea of whether you’d like to invest in such a piece. 

If your answer is positive, you may want to explore the most commonly used designs in filigree jewelry.

Scrollwork Filigree

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

Scrollwork is an ancient technique of decorating filigree jewelry. It uses spirals, twists, and curls to add ornaments. Scrollwork designs are often lacy, but they can also come with thicker braiding, threads, or similar bold elements.  

Celtic Filigree

13604 Filigree on Ring

The Celtic jewelry trend is more than 4,000 years old. The craftsmen at the time created these pieces to carry strong meaning to the person wearing them, including protection symbols like peace, love, and more. 

One of the most popular Celtic jewelry filigree designs includes a Celtic knot. This knot doesn’t have a start or finish, and it’s a looped pattern that goes on infinitely. This symbolizes the eternity of life. 

Floral Filigree

13666 Floral Filigree on Diamond Engagement Ring

Flowers have a universal beauty, making them an indispensable design idea for filigree jewelry. You can add floral designs to just about any piece. The floral part can also be the center of the jewelry. Plus, floral filigree elements are always a great idea for engagement rings for girls who are nature lovers. 

Heart Filigree

The heart is a universal symbol of commitment and love. The designs look stunning, especially when done in the filigree method and centered around some scrollwork. 

Vine Filigree

Filigree Jewelry with Vine Motif on the Side 13640

Vines are a great way to ornament a filigree piece. There are different types of vines, from elegant and thin ones to thicker and ropelike designs. Both styles look stunning and are a go-to gift idea for antique jewelry lovers. 

Leaves Filigree

A leaf ornament in jewelry suggests an airy element, given that the leaves often seem to blow in the wind, which adds movement to the jewelry piece. Much like flowers, leaves can be added to existing central pieces or be the central element themselves. 

5 Tips for Buying a Filigree Ring

  1. Take personal taste in mind. 

Don’t go for too much filigree for a person who enjoys simplicity and minimalism. The color, location of the filigree, and its complexity can truly change the overall look of a piece. 

  1. Consider the carat amount and size.

Too big of a central stone can overshadow the beautiful filigree piece. You can go for small diamonds that will highlight the sparkle of the filigree. But if you’re up for a flashier solution, large gemstones can be a winning combination. 

  1. Choose authentic over mass-produced.

Mass-produced filigree rings don’t have the same flair as handcrafted pieces. If you’re looking for an authentic filigree ring for your loved one, go for vintage solutions. You can even customize the looks of the details by talking to the ring designer. 

  1. Pick the right metal. 

As previously mentioned, platinum is the best material for a filigree ring. If the person you’re buying the ring for isn’t a platinum lover or simply prefers gold, make sure not to go with the 24k option due to its delicacy. Alternatively, sterling silver is a good option, and it’s also more affordable. 

  1. Choose a gemstone over a diamond.

If you wish to cut on the filigree ring expense, consider gemstones in place of diamonds. Alternatively, you can pick smaller diamonds or those of a lower grade. Doing so will also highlight the work of the filigree. 

How to Care for and Clean Your Filigree Jewelry

Cleaning Diamond Wedding Band in Showroom with Toothbrush

Overcleaning is the worst thing you can do for your new filigree jewelry piece. In fact, it’s better to under-clean when it comes to filigree jewelry. As delicate as the filigree is by nature, any excess cleaning can take away some of its beauty that’s impossible to restore. 

Also, avoid ultrasonic cleaners, as the vibrations can loosen the filigree stones or break the construction. Try to stay away from commercial cleaning solutions as well, as the chemicals inside them can again strip away the jewelry’s beauty. 

You want to go with a few drops of hand sanitizer and put them on the filigree piece directly. Use a soft toothbrush and go over the structure very gently. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer will remove the tarnish without harming the structure. 

However, refrain from using alcohol on filigree pieces that have pearls. This can damage the pearl in the long term. 

Alternatively, you can mix some mild dishwashing liquid and warm water in a plastic bowl and soap the jewelry piece for five to ten minutes, depending on the jewelry type (soft stones should be washed for five minutes). After washing, gently brush the piece with a soft toothbrush and rinse under lukewarm water. 

When you’re done cleaning, let the piece of jewelry dry on a paper towel out in the air. Don’t rub it onto the paper to avoid having small pieces stuck between the filigree wires. 

Talk to an Expert

Customer looking at diamond halo engagement ring in showroom

If you’re interested in purchasing filigree jewelry, you can talk to an expert at Estate Diamond Jewelry. We can answer all your filigree-related questions and provide additional information and ideas. What’s more, our expert designers can assist you in creating custom-made filigree jewelry or show you a collection of some of our best work. 

We respond within one business hour.