The vintage appeal of filigree...
While some jewelry lovers prefer sleek simple looks, many prefer designs that offer individuality. One of the best ways to make jewelry look more complex is with filigree. This ancient method of adding patterns to jewelry settings is still popular today, and it’s a fun way to add a bit of personality into the design.😘
So what is filigree, and how has it withstood the tests of time to remain popular today?
Let’s discuss the origin of filigree, how it’s used in jewelry, where to buy it, and advice on how to select the right filigree style for your needs.
Basics: What is filigree?
The history of filigree
Dating back more than 5,000 years, filigree is an old jewelry element used by several ancient civilizations. Now a less common design feature, filigree was originally part of everyday jewelry making. Throughout time, the ornate nature of filigree grew, with additions of small beads, gemstones, and braiding appearing in different parts of the world.
Filigree also saw popularity in 17th century Europe, where jewelry makers adorned religious ornaments with detailed designs. However, it reached peak popularity in the Edwardian and Art Deco periods, where filigree became a common component in expensive jewelry.
The composition of filigree
Filigree takes its name from two Latin words: filum or thread and granum meaning grain. These words refer to a line of small beads added to jewelry, but filigree is so much more than that.
Today, filigree requires manipulating thin threads of precious metal to create intricate designs. These designs may include scrollwork, beadwork, symbols, twists, or any other kind of embellishment. These metal strands are then soldered to a jewelry piece, creating a one of a kind setting.
How is filigree made?
Filigree creation is a complex procedure that requires expert skills. Here is a rundown of the general process:
- The craftsman stretches precious metal until it becomes a fine thread. The thickness of the thread can vary depending on the design, but some threads are as thin as a hair!
- The craftsman heats the metal thread to make it more pliable.
- The craftsman takes the soft thread and shapes it into a pattern.
- Once the design is complete, the craftsman solders the threads together to solidify the design.
- Finally, the finished design is soldered to the jewelry piece.
How does filigree appear on jewelry? (4 filigree types)
Let’s take a look at examples of 4 types of filigree:📸
To make openwork designs, designers must solder filigree to an open setting, meaning there is open space behind the filigree instead of solid metal. This white gold filigree ring is a beautiful wedding band option for anyone seeking a stylized wedding band without flashy diamonds. Or, try an openwork filigree bracelet that you can wear for any occasion.
Metal-supported filigree offers the details of filigree without the flashiness of an openwork design. With this style, designers add filigree to a solid setting, meaning there are no open spaces. These filigree earrings provide the allure of delicate scrollwork without going overboard.
Combined Openwork and Metal-Supported Filigree
Both types of filigree mentioned above can be present on the same piece. Combined looks offer the subtlety of metal-supported filigree with the graceful elegance of openwork styles. This yellow gold filigree ring is a perfect example of the beauty achieved when both looks come together.
Filigree With Additional Elements
In addition to filigree, designers may add milgrain, gemstones, and other accents to the design to enhance the look. This filigree diamond ring is a beautiful engagement piece, and the white diamond complements the sparkle of the delicate filigree and milgrain edging. You can combine elements in any fashion, meaning the options for a one of a kind piece are endless!
Filigree vs. Milgrain vs. Engraving: What are the differences?
So how do filigree, milgrain, and engraving compare?
All three design elements offer ways to create unique jewelry, but their methods and features differ.
The biggest difference between these methods is their process. Filigree and milgrain require adding something to a piece, whereas engraving requires removing metal to create carved designs.
Although filigree and milgrain can share design features, they are still rather different. Milgrain strictly refers to the addition of metal beads to a jewelry piece. In addition to beading, filigree can include intricate designs or symbols far beyond milgrain.
The tools used for these processes are also different. Because milgrain and filigree require additional metal, these designs must be soldered to the finished product. However, engraving does not require soldering, as the design is simply carved into the metal. Additionally, all three designs benefit from technological advancements such as laser engraving and 3D-CAD software.🔬 Now, each of these design elements can be done without manual labor, making the processes more efficient and accurate.
6 popular motifs used in filigree jewelry
Here are 6 popular motifs used in filigree that you’ll adore:
An ancient style used in filigree, scrollwork includes twists, curls, and spirals. Delicate scrollwork often looks lacy, but it can also include thicker threads, braiding, or other bold elements. The gold filigree on this locket creates a beautiful, scrollwork border around the center of the piece.
Craftsmen started the trend of Celtic jewelry around 2,000 BC. Celtic designs often carry a lot of meaning to the wearer, and symbols offer protection, love, peace, etc. The Celtic knot is a popular choice for filigree jewelry.📈
The gentle beauty of flowers is a perfect complement to filigree. Floral designs may be added to a piece, or they could make up the body of the piece altogether. A floral filigree engagement ring is a great way to incorporate your fianceé’s love of nature into a setting!❤️
Leaves suggest an airy element in jewelry, as the leaves often appear to be blowing in the wind, adding movement to the piece. Similar to flowers, leaves may be added to an existing piece or created entirely of filigree themselves.
Hearts symbolize everlasting love and commitment, and they look beautiful surrounded by intricate scrollwork. This sterling silver filigree ring is a great option for an affordable promise ring!
Vines are another common feature in filigree, and they’re an excellent way to add detail to a piece. These vines can be thicker, ropelike images or thin, elegant designs that look great on antique jewelry.
Would you use filigree on your jewelry?
Here is a wrap up of the pros and cons of filigree jewelry:
- For vintage pieces, any filigree is one of a kind, as it is usually handcrafted and tough to replicate.
- Filigree adds shine to jewelry without adding expensive gemstones.
- Its ornate design draws attention to the center stone, and filigree can make smaller diamonds appear larger.
- Filigree is an inexpensive way to create an intriguing piece.
- Adding filigree to jewelry creates an antique, romantic look for those who prefer vintage-inspired fashion.
- Filigree works for both men's and women’s jewelry, and men’s filigree wedding rings are a great way to add detail to a ring without appearing flashy.
- While jewelers are always making new filigree pieces, the design itself is not usually suited for those with modern tastes.
- Filigree has a lot of open spaces and can be difficult to keep clean.
- Maintenance can be costly for custom or one of a kind vintage filigree pieces, and some cannot be replaced if broken. The individual craftsmanship of older pieces means they must be replaced by hand, and the new design will never be quite the same.
- Handmade filigree pieces can be expensive, depending on the materials and labor needed to complete them.
Choosing the filigree right for you: Our advice
Consider personal taste
💡Typically, filigree has a vintage appeal, and the amount of filigree, where it appears, and its color can impact the overall strength of this look. If you’re someone who prefers a modern style but loves filigree, choose your jewelry carefully.
Intricate filigree with multiple shapes and lines can make a piece look complicated and older than it actually is. But, a simple filigree piece offers understated beauty without the antiquity.
Consider which metal would be best for your filigree look as well. Yellow and rose gold filigree may look more vintage, while platinum and white gold filigree appear much more contemporary. For a more modern style, take a look at this filigree sapphire ring, which offers the soft look of filigree with the edgier, industrial appeal of a bezel setting.
Be mindful of gemstone carat and size
Because filigree can add a lot of busyness to a piece, it’s important to take any gemstones into account. Make sure you fit your stone to the filigree look you want to achieve.
For those who want a subtle look, choose a gemstone that fits your piece without minimizing the beauty of your filigree. Or, try a piece with several smaller accent diamonds that highlight your filigree’s sparkle. If you’d prefer a flashier piece, try something with a larger gemstone such as a filigree cocktail ring.
Where will you wear it?
Even though it’s made from precious metals, filigree is delicate. Filigree pieces can snag on fabrics, causing damage to the overall design. If you constantly work with your hands, you may want to avoid filigree or choose a piece less likely to snag, such as a filigree necklace. Or, try a simpler filigree design with fewer points and spirals that may catch on fabrics.
If you plan on saving your filigree piece for special occasions, then you can choose whichever one you’d like as long as you’re careful! Try something unique like this pearl filigree bracelet to wow guests at any party or special event.
Think about potential wedding bands
If you’re purchasing a filigree engagement ring, think about what you’d like your potential wedding bands to look like.👰🏻
You could opt for a simple engagement ring with a filigree wedding band for added sparkle without overspending. A filigree engagement ring with a simple wedding band would look equally as beautiful, or you could choose filigree for both items. Just make sure their style of filigree suits your ring. A modern engagement ring with an Art Deco-inspired wedding band may seem mismatched!
Filigree is perfect for men’s wedding bands as well. If your husband enjoys simple designs, adding filigree to his wedding band offers a bit of detail without any unnecessary sparkle.
Keep servicing needs in mind
⚠️Your filigree piece will need servicing, so make sure you ask your seller about servicing options when purchasing. If no service plan is provided, then read our care instructions below to learn more about how to care for filigree jewelry at home. It should be noted that in addition to removing general dirt and irritants, silver filigree will need polishing to avoid any oxidized dark spots on your jewelry.
Where should you buy your filigree jewelry?
Where you buy your jewelry matters, and there are several trusted retailers who provide quality filigree products. If you’re looking for a more vintage look, consider shopping at Etsy or an antique shop where you can avoid mass-produced filigree. Or, create your own custom filigree piece!
Here are our suggestions for reputable filigree retailers:
James Allen and Brilliant Earth
Both James Allen and Brilliant Earth offer a wide selection of filigree pieces with exceptional quality materials. Additionally, both online shops offer professional cleaning services as well as extensive customer service plans that will protect your filigree jewelry for decades to come.
If you don’t like the look of commercial jewelry, Etsy is full of individual sellers who offer both vintage and modern pieces. Many of the items in these shops are also handmade, so you can ensure each one is unique! Just be sure to communicate with your seller regarding proper care instructions, long term maintenance, and any other concerns you may have.
Things you should know about filigree jewelry caring
DON’T do this to your filigree jewelry
Filigree jewelry is delicate, so make sure you do not overclean it. Rubbing the surface of filigree too often or too roughly can cause the design to degrade, leaving you with a faded reminder of the original design.
If you take your jewelry to a professional for cleanings, make sure they do not put it in an ultrasonic cleaner. While ultrasonic cleaners are a fast and effective way to remove dirt from a piece, the strong vibrations can cause damage to your filigree.
When cleaning your ring at home, do not use any commercial cleaning products. The harsh chemicals in these cleaners can strip your filigree and setting, so make sure you use one of the easy, at-home processes suggested below.
DO use these cleaning methods
For a quick clean, add a few drops of hand sanitizer to your filigree piece and lightly brush it with a soft toothbrush. Finish it off by gently rinsing your piece with warm water. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer will remove tarnish, 💡but do not use this process if you have any soft center stones like pearls!
For a deeper clean, let your filigree jewelry soak in a combination of warm water and dish soap. Jewelry with diamonds can stay in such a solution for 20-30 minutes, but softer gemstones should be removed after 5 minutes. Once time is up, remove your jewelry and gently brush all surfaces with a soft toothbrush. Rinse under warm running water and repeat as necessary. Then, dry your piece with a paper towel, but be sure to pat it dry to avoid any paper stuck in your jewelry!
Find the right filigree piece for your needs
Decadent and refined, filigree brings the character of the past to present jewelry settings for those who love a touch of old world sparkle.
While there are several styles of filigree to choose from, finding the right one for your needs is crucial to making the design last for years to come.
Are you sold on adding filigree to your next jewelry purchase? If you’re considering buying a ring, take a look at these 15 popular ring settings to find the right one for you.