Last updateTue, 22 May 2018 10pm

Examining techniques in antique jewelry: The Filigree art form


Antique jewelry is more than a look. There’s more to authentic antique and vintage jewelry than the style or even the era in which it was produced. There are also special techniques that were employed then. This critical issue is central to identifying and maintaining authenticity of a piece of original jewelry from another era.

Filigree sapphire and diamond brooch. Photo courtesy of eFiligree, Inc.
Trustworthy antique jewelry dealers and retailers insist on restoring their items using as close to the original techniques as possible to the time that the piece was made. This maintains the value, the true appearance and beauty of the item. Computer assisted design is utilized by a majority of modern jewelers today. And this is fine for contemporary pieces. But for keeping the authentic impression of one-of-a-kind ancient pieces, using an expert bench jeweler is the way to go.

Understanding the Filigree


One of the most intriguing antique jewelry techniques is the use of filigree.  The earliest jewelry records referred to it as filigrane. Filigree is a derivative of the Latin word thread, and many languages have similar words like the Spanish word filagrina, which refers to spinning a thread. It’s easy to see why this word is used to describe jewelry made from thin metal threads which are curved and twisted into delicate patterns resembling lace.

No matter which piece of jewelry or embellishment was created in filigree, they all have certain elements in common. The art utilizes twisting and curling flexible metal wire, or threads and then soldering them in place, sometimes with miniature beads or granulation which acts to finish the design. Some of the most delicate handiwork in filigree is actually wrapped around more substantial metal frames, like a ring shank or a brooch frame.

Origins of Filigree


The French and even Far Eastern jewelry makers used some form of the filigree technique in the mid 17th century and it continued in popularity through the end of the Victorian era. But archeologists occasionally unearth much earlier examples of this fine craftsmanship. The remains of gold and silver filigree brooches described as “incredible’ and estimated to be circa 700CE were recovered in Staffordshire, England in 2009. The Scandinavians were known for their silver filigree buttons and brooches, and this clever style is still seen in that part of the world today with their traditional embellishments.

It’s possible to discover authentic filigree jewelry from epochs earlier than Victorian times, but it is rare. Prior to the Victorian period - which was between 1837 and 1901 - this technique was prevalent in jewelry. However, little of that jewelry survived due to normal loss and political upheaval in Europe where this style was popular. As terrible as it seems, jewelry from Georgian times and before was destroyed when newer styles came into vogue. One can only imagine how much masterful jewelry work was melted down to recover the metals and reuse the gemstones from these ancient jewelry items.

Bringing the Art form to

the 21st Century

Modern jewelers might consider the time consuming work of filigree to be too labor intensive to tackle. Jewelry connoisseurs are grateful however, that sufficient earlier filigree jewelry survived so it can be cherished today by another generation of collectors.

Today filigree style jewelry is appreciated for its skillful work and imaginative designs. Keep in mind that most antique jewelry was one of a kind, so the piece of filigree jewelry you admire will not pop up elsewhere at any price. Filigree jewelry is light weight and easy to wear, whether they are rings, brooches, earrings or other items made in this style. So these pieces are bound to be a comfortable choice for any lady. The detail and scrolling add instant femininity to every fortunate wearer of this style.

Selecting Filigree Jewelry

Some of the things to look for in filigree jewelry are the condition of the detail work. Of course antique jewelry is one hundred or more years old, so it should have the patina and charm of an original piece. Still the piece should be strong enough for the collector to enjoy wearing. Many original pin backs on antique jewelry were damaged at some point earlier in their life. So make sure that the pin, whether original to the piece or restored, is securely attached to the back. Filigree rings or semi-mounts should have their shanks in good condition so that the ring will not slip off or otherwise come apart. Notice the prongs and the head of a filigree semi-mount. Will it be able to securely hold a new stone placed there?

Finally, whether you are acquiring a piece of filigree jewelry for your own collection or for your discriminating clientele - remember to enjoy this miniature work of art for its lineage. Its technique was passed down through hundreds of years from one craftsman to the next. And we are fortunate enough to occasionally offer these gems of history to our special customers.

eFiligree is a leading wholesaler of authentic original antique and vintage jewelry, specializing in restored antique and vintage filigree mountings. You don’t need to be expert in this field when you buy from us, because we guarantee every item we sell. Our mission is as much about education as it is sales. As a retailer, you’ll want to understand this niche market before adding it to your line. Our tutorials arm you with critical knowledge that translates into sales. Visit us today at www.eFiligree.com or call 888-345-4473.