Not just a fun word to say, filigree is a delicate jewelry metalwork made with tiny beads or twisted threads that are soldered together to resemble latticework or, at its very finest, lace. (The word comes from the Latin “filium” and “granium” meaning thread and grain; in fact, it was once called “filigrane.”) Around since 2500 BC, when it was primarily used to decorate personal artifacts, it was the Greeks who began adding gemstones in the late 4th century.
As the centuries passed, filigree remained relatively unchanged until King Edward VII prompted experimentation with jewelry, which led to a rise in filigree jewelry designs during the Art Nouveau era. Back then, pretty much every jeweler knew how to do it, whereas today, it’s considered specialty work; indeed, several companies consider it a calling card. (It should be noted however, that machines often help with much of the work in modern times.)
It’s especially fascinating how the filigree was adapted as it moved from country to country. Variations in design, metal used, and objects favored for filigree vary and, if you’re curious, do some research and then seek examples at pawn shops throughout Northern Virginia. In all cases, however, the products involve twisting or curling the metal wire and soldering in place, often with the small beads for security and finishing. Usually, the frames are made first, and rolled threads are used to create specific designs, such as flora and fauna.
You’ll find filigree in everything from broaches to necklaces to rings to earrings and bracelets. And you’ll find many find examples when you shop for jewelry in the DC area; be sure to ask the provenance of the piece as you explore the varied techniques and design that filigree offers.