What Is Filigree &
How Is It Used In Jewelry?

An intricate art form with roots in jewelry design dating back more than 5,000 years, filigree has elevated jewelry designs around the world for centuries. For generations, jewelry designers have incorporated this technique to add delicate dimension and femininity to all types of jewelry pieces. As we explore its unique history and how it’s made, discover how this design technique pairs an antique practice with a modern aesthetic for truly beautiful jewelry. 

History of Filigree

The first fossil instances of filigree were discovered by archaeologists in ancient Greece and Mesopotamia and dated over 5,000 years ago. The name filigree comes from the latin words “filum” meaning thread and “granum” meaning grain, describing the thin metal strips used to create filigree. Spreading through Europe and Asia, the craft became very popular with Romans throughout their vast empire.

Our common understanding of filigree jewelry appeared as a feature of French fashion from the late 1600s to the 1800s, and really made its mark during the Art Deco period with detailed scroll work and lacy flourishes creating gorgeous motifs in all types of jewelry. Pieces from this era are widely collected and coveted as exceptional works of jewelry and pieces of art.

Although mostly associated with jewelry, filigree has also been used as a feature in the fabrication of iron railings and household items like plates, bowls, lamps, and light fixtures. Since filigree is the manipulation of metal, just about every metal has been used to create beautiful filigree pieces including gold, silver, platinum, copper and iron.

Filigree is the delicate manipulation of thin strips of metal that are woven and twisted to form incredible texture and detail. The process of making filigree by hand is methodical and time-consuming, starting with stretching metal into thin, threadlike strips. This part requires a lot of patience and many jewelers still often do it by hand, although now there are machines to help create these strips.

Once the strips are formed, the jeweler works with one piece of threadlike metal at a time. Using heated tools to soften it, the jeweler will twist and manipulate the thread into the desired shape and design. Once the metal shape is complete, it’s soldered to the metal base piece. This process is repeated over and over again until the entire design is completed.

Often there is space between the filigree in a technique called openwork filigree. This is the method commonly seen in antique filigree jewelry, most notably in brooches, watch bands, bracelets, and pendants. Often combined with filigree is the design technique called milgrain. Another jewelry design technique dating back many centuries, milgrain is the process of tiny beads of metal being applied to jewelry to create borders. In many pieces of filigree jewelry, milgrain is also incorporated, adding dimension, texture, and sparkle.

Although the process of making filigree is a time-honored piece of hand work, modern technology has made the process easier for jewelers who choose that route. Laser cutting technologies developed in the 1960s have been used in jewelry making since 1965. With developments, laser cutting provides the ability to precisely cut metal into the desired design, bypassing the need to start with metal strips.

detail of ring with milgrain and filigree

What to Know About Choosing Filigree

The delicate, ornamental designs achieved with filigree are perfect for creating an aura of romance around a ring. From antique-inspired filigree settings to more modern use of the technique, there’s something for every preference and aesthetic. But as with every design choice for an engagement ring, there are important things to know about choosing filigree for your ring.

Filigree offers many benefits to an engagement ring. Since precious metals are often less expensive than gemstones, filigree can be a relatively inexpensive way to add intrigue and embellishment to a ring. It can also add some visual pop and sparkle to a smaller diamond or gemstone, also helping them to appear larger. And due to the intricate nature of filigree, you can be assured that one ring won’t look like anyone else’s.

The delicate nature of filigree is also something to consider for care and maintenance. By its very nature of being so delicate, there’s a higher opportunity for accidentally damaging your ring if the openwork gets caught on an object. So, always inquire about maintenance and care with the jeweler who is designing your ring. Because of how filigree is created, many mainstream jewelers are unable to work on filigree rings from other jewelers.

While any metal can be worked into a filigree creation, 24K gold isn’t necessarily the best choice. Since the high karat content in this gold makes it much softer, it could leave your ring more susceptible to breakage. For an optimal ring, choose platinum or a lower gold karat content to safeguard against this outcome.

A filigree ring is likely to cost more than a simpler ounce-for-ounce counterpart version of an engagement ring because of the way it’s made. It takes skilled craftsmanship to envision and create the elaborate, lacy designs.

Antique-Inspired Filigree Ring

Examples of Filigree in Engagement Rings

Filigree most often calls to mind a classical, romantic feel which makes the design technique perfect for engagement rings. A ring design can carry tons of vintage appeal, as with our Guadeloupe, incorporating refined and detailed filigree and milgrain work with an ornate basket.

Or in a more nature-inspired and whimsical interpretation, filigree and milgrain combine to create a detailed and unique band with our Brandee. And for true purists, our Kenzi and Cordelia feature openwork filigree with unique detailing and classic design.

Filigree perfectly complements diamonds and gemstones of all colors, no matter the shape or size, and looks lovely in all metals. Whether used in subtle touches in special spots on the ring or woven throughout, filigree is an excellent choice to achieve a personal and unique engagement ring design.

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