Fabricating Filigree

Filigree is a jewelry-making technique that dates back as far as 2500 B.C, and examples of this type of work are seen in many cultures across history. From the latin word “filum” for thread, it describes ornamental work of fine wire (typically gold or silver) formed into delicate tracery. For ages, the art of handcrafted filigree was considered a routine skill for a jeweler.

In the Edwardian era, die-struck (machine made) jewelry had been available for some time, but suddenly went out of fashion as tastes turned to delicate, ethereal “garland” style of jewelry-making. Technological advances suddenly allowed jewelers the high heat and stability to work with pure platinum, resulting in a stunning icy-white appearance. For the first time, jewelers were able to incorporate diamonds and gemstones into this lacy metalwork. Fluid designs like bows, ribbons, and garlands became the desired jewelry fashion. We also see the first examples of milgrain in the Edwardian era, the beautiful beaded edging detail that so immediately evokes antique jewelry.

In the modern era, specialized equipment and advanced machine casting techniques have allowed for mass production and less-costly fabrication, but the truly delicate nature of filigree has been lost along the way. The art of handcrafted fine-wire filigree is one of the lost techniques of jewelry making that Green Lake has helped to bring back into the mainstream.

The fine art of hand made fine wire filigree consists of curling, twisting, and bending fine threads of wire by hand. This may sound simple, but as the saying goes, it takes an hour to learn and a lifetime to master. First, wire is drawn out, usually to less than half of a millimeter in diameter, then sometimes flattened for strength. The wire is then carefully formed to the preferred shape under a bench microscope. A whimsical eye, steady hand, and a consideration of the area being filled is required. The gauge of wire being used is taken into careful consideration so that the desired effect is achieved.

In most cases, we use a specially designed laser to weld the wire to the adjoining area of the piece. Additional shapes may be added at this point, like curvaceous wisps of diamond studded platinum or fancy color beads of gold. Complex patterns can be created with details like initials, fabricated leaves, overlapping patterns. Fine details like real filigree are the difference between an heirloom and an ordinary piece of jewelry.

There are many ways we use filigree in the Green Lake Jewelry studios, so we decided to pull together a blog showing some of the gorgeous custom pieces that incorporate filigree to show you how versatile it can be! Check out our 17 Unique Filigree Styles blog to learn more and get inspired!