Filigree refers to the process and type of design that uses twisted wire to create delicate, lacy, openwork jewelry. Usually made from finer metals like gold, silver and platinum, filigree has been used for centuries to craft jewelry such as pins, rings and pendants. To create filigree, an artisan rolls the malleable metal into thin filaments, then twists and bends them into intricate shapes that resemble spun sugar, paisley scrolls and evocative arabesques.
Anthropologists have traced the craft of filigree to the jewellers of many different ancient cultures, including Greece, Rome, Armenia, India and China. First, the craftspeople hammered chunks of metal to lengthen and transform them to filaments. Then they joined the wires at their overlapping junctures with rudimentary soldering. This method of producing open patterns was more common at the time than molding or casting metal pieces. The woven threads may have been delicate, but they helped people celebrate rituals during marriages and birth, as well as providing fancy ornamentation for royalty. Antique filigree can be found in museums alongside ancient pottery and carved wood.
During the Edwardian era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, filigree reached its pinnacle of popularity. Aesthetically, Edwardians valued flowery, ornate designs in clothing, furniture and book illustrations as well as jewelry, so filigree was naturally appealing to them. In America, this school of art and architecture evolved into Art Nouveau. Most antique jewelry of the Art Nouveau style was produced during this era, including diamond engagement rings, detailed brooches set with emeralds or rubies, linked bracelets made from silver, or hanging earrings of gold.
Filigree just as easily adapted itself to the abstracted shapes of the Art Deco period of the thirties and forties, when it appealed to a middle class consumer. Many wedding ring mounts were made of filigree. They showed off geometric motifs and repetitive patterns to reflect the simplification of modern design.
Since the Art Deco era, when the aesthetic of delicate work became widespread in architecture, print, and fashion, filigree has also been used refer to an openwork motif on objects like book covers, lawn furniture, or fabric. Filigreed designs often have vines, leaves, buds, waving hair, or spider webs incorporated into their textures. Historically inspired reproductions of antique pieces may use the word filigree to note the general design, rather than to describe the specific method used to form the jewelry.