Milgrain: What Is It and How Is It Used in Jewelry? [+ Buying Advice]

Milgrain: a personal touch for all jewelry...

If you want to add personality to your new jewelry piece but don’t want to spend the extra cash for accent diamonds, consider milgrain instead.

Intricate metalwork like milgrain is a perfect way to include a touch of class and character to jewelry without going overboard.

Milgrain Style Ring With Mixed Metals

So what is milgrain, and how does it add subtle beauty to jewelry? In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • The history of milgrain and how it’s created
  • How milgrain compares to filigree
  • Where milgrain is used in jewelry
  • The pros and cons of milgrain
  • Our recommendations and suggested retailers for milgrain jewelry

What is milgrain?

The history of milgrain

Milgrain has a long history as a decorative element, dating back as early as the 8th century BCE. While archaeologists find milgrain on artifacts all around the globe, it seems to have been incredibly popular in Southeast Asia, China, and India. In fact, it’s still a prominent feature in jewelry in these areas today.

Milgrain enjoyed two major periods of popularity: the Edwardian period of 1900-1910 and again in the Art Deco period in the 1930’s. While the Gilded Age of the early 1900’s brought milgrain to the forefront of fashion, the Art Deco period solidified its place in jewelry with beautiful, geometric styles and daring designs. Since then, milgrain has been a popular choice for those who prefer an antique look, but more modern pieces have slowly entered the market as well.🎊

Milgrain composition

The word “milgrain” comes from the French word millegrain or “a thousand grains”. This name is extremely fitting, as milgrain consists of hundreds of tiny beads that adorn the edges of jewelry. Their placement depends on design, and their sizing can vary. 

Milgrain can be nearly invisible or rather large, and designers may also include multiple rows of beads or a single strand.

Milgrain adds texture to any jewelry piece, and this texture creates character and distinction. Looks created with milgrain can be simple or incredibly complex, and we’ll look at a few of these designs later in this article.

How milgrain is created: 3 methods explained

There are three major ways jewelers create milgrain, and each one requires different tools and expertise. Let’s look at each technique below:

By Hand

Before technology made the milgrain process easier, crafters molded the tiny beads by hand and placed them on the design themselves. They then soldered the beads into place, taking careful steps to ensure the milgrain was uniform both in size and distance around the jewelry piece. This process was complicated and time-consuming, making the addition of milgrain to your jewelry even more decadent.

With Tools

Eventually, the knurling tool made the milgrain process less difficult.

A knurling tool is similar to a pizza cutter, with a wheel that has the milgrain design on its edges attached to a handle so craftsmen can roll it around a piece of jewelry. Rolling the knurling tool around the edges of the piece creates a uniform milgrain pattern without having to craft each bead individually.

Using Computer Software

Further advancements in technology have even rendered the knurling tool obsolete, as 3D-CAD software removes the need for manual labor in milgrain creation. Using the software, jewelry designers 3D print a wax mold that is used to create a metal form for milgrain pieces. Although the individuality and uniqueness of each piece is less prominent, this process provides uniformity and saves precious time in milgrain creation.

Milgrain vs. Filigree

So if milgrain is tiny beading, what is filigree?  

It’s easy to get these two terms confused, as their definitions are somewhat intertwined. However, milgrain and filigree can be two very different design features.

The word “filigree” comes from a combination of the Latin words filum or “thread” and granum meaning “grain”. Whereas milgrain is a combination of tiny beads, filigree can be metal beads or threads used to create an intricate design on the surface of jewelry. These threads can be twisted together, turned into scrollwork, or simply tied around a design for an intricate border.

Milgrain vs. Filigree Ring
Milgrain ring vs. Filigree ring | Brilliant Earth SKU: BE2105-14KR (L) vs. BE1154-MGMZ9X7OV3-18KW (R)

Similar to milgrain, filigree has been around for millennia, with some artifacts dating back to the Mesopotamians! While both milgrain and filigree require experienced craftsmanship, their finished designs can vary greatly. Milgrain focuses on the delicate art of beadwork, whereas filigree can be used to create any design imaginable.

If you’re looking for a way to set your jewelry apart, a piece crafted with milgrain or filigree will certainly become a conversation piece!🧜🏻‍♂️

Where is milgrain used on jewelry? (6 styles explained)

Historically, milgrain appears around the outer edge of a ring. However, over time, designers have found new ways to incorporate milgrain into jewelry design, and each style provides a different look. Here are a few places you can find milgrain on jewelry:

Outer Edge of a Ring

A classic look, milgrain on the outer edge of wedding bands is a tried and true way to add personality to your piece. The Tiffany milgrain wedding band is an iconic version of this style. Milgrain engagement rings are equally beautiful, with just a touch of detail that’s sure to please.😊 You can also try a milgrain diamond wedding band for a luxe design.

 Milgrain Ring Style: Outer Edge of a Ring
Blue Nile (SKU: 47182)

Inner Edge of a Ring

Details hidden within the band of a ring have become increasingly popular, and you can hide your milgrain inside your ring as well. A small ring of milgrain on the inner edge of your piece provides a bit of flair and a fun little detail that people love to notice when staring at your ring. You can even add a small layer of milgrain to the inside of your engagement ring!

Milgrain Appears on the Inner Edge of a Ring
Whiteflash (SKU: 52641-7mm)

Near the Center of a Band

Those concerned about protecting their milgrain may prefer to add it near the center of their wedding band. Designers can add a single strip or more of milgrain to bring life to a plain band, and it’s a great way to create sparkle without spending money on diamonds. There are also women’s versions of this modern look.

Milgrain Ring Design: Near the Center of the Band
James Allen (SKU: 16653W14)

Continuous Milgrain Strips

If you like textured pieces, consider milgrain strips around your wedding band. Men’s milgrain wedding bands are durable, classic, and offer just the right amount of shine. Plus, all of the milgrain conceals scratches and scuff marks for those who are rougher with their jewelry!

Milgrain Ring With Continuous Milgrain Strips
Angara (SKU: WRM_SR0907)

Edges of Other Jewelry Settings

Designers add milgrain to the edges of all types of jewelry, not just rings!

Milgrain earrings are a great way to add a bit of detail to otherwise standard posts. Or, try a milgrain pendant to enhance the shine of your center stone. Even milgrain bracelets are possible, offering a less common look that is sure to be eye-catching. However, a halo milgrain engagement ring is arguably the most stunning example of this style of milgrain.🥰

Milgrain Solitaire Diamond Stud Earrings
James Allen (SKU: 37567P03A)

Paired With Filigree

To create a decadent look, pair your milgrain with filigree. Together, these stylish accents provide old-world beauty that can be custom designed for each buyer. If you like ornate pieces but prefer to avoid accent stones, detailed milgrain and filigree can make a piece shine without any diamonds. You can even try a mixed metals look for a more modern take on the duo.

Prong Setting Engagement Ring With Milgrain and Filigree Elements
James Allen (SKU: 18067Y)

The benefits of adding milgrain to your jewelry

So why should you consider adding milgrain to your jewelry?

Here are just a few reasons why milgrain is a perfect accent for any style ring:

  • Milgrain can fit any style ring, from vintage classic to modern chic looks.
  • If you’re not interested in flashy accent stones, milgrain adds a bit of sparkle and detail to your piece without going overboard.
  • Milgrain pieces look expensive without actually being so, although certain metal settings—such as platinum—will be more expensive than others.
  • Adding milgrain to your piece adds texture, which in turn increases the complexity of the design and the interest of onlookers observing your jewelry.
  • Milgrain highlights diamonds and other gemstones, drawing attention to gems and enhancing their sparkle.
  • If you’re unsure about milgrain, fear not: you can actually add milgrain to a piece later on. Milgrain can be added by an experienced jeweler years after you purchase your jewelry.

Things to consider before choosing milgrain

Despite its many benefits, milgrain does have a few features you should be aware of. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether you want a milgrain piece:

  • Milgrain is tough to clean, and you’ll spend more time cleaning a milgrain piece at home than you would with a regular item. While milgrain does clean well with warm water and a mild soap, you should clean your piece at least every other week to ensure dirt and oils do not build up between the beads.  
    • A soft toothbrush is also helpful in getting to those hard to reach spots! Also, consider taking your milgrain piece to a jeweler for a professional cleaning every 6 months or so to eliminate any tough buildup.  
  • Milgrain does not last forever. While stronger metals like platinum and palladium will last longer, milgrain eventually fades with wear. The more you wear your piece, the quicker milgrain fades, and you can expect to replace it about every ten years.  
    • The process itself is not expensive, but replacing costly metals like platinum may be something you want to consider when choosing milgrain.

Buying milgrain jewelry: Our advice

So how can you know whether milgrain is right for you or your significant other? Here are our recommendations to consider while deciding on milgrain:

Understated beauty

For those who prefer detailed jewelry without going overboard, milgrain provides just the right amount of glam. Accent stones can appear gaudy to some, and metalwork is an easy way to provide additional shine without adding expensive diamonds. The beads of milgrain glow beautifully in light without looking flashy, and they offer a touch of drama to wedding bands if you don’t want a complete milgrain set.

Wearer’s lifestyle

Your lifestyle or that of your giftee should play into your decision regarding milgrain. Milgrain can match any person’s style, but it’s important to figure out whether a vintage look or modern style best suits your needs.

Additionally, consider other jewelry that you wear often to ensure your milgrain piece will match your wardrobe. Luckily, milgrain works for both active and inactive lifestyles, so there’s no need to worry about damaging your milgrain with wear.

Matching wedding band

If you’re looking at a milgrain engagement ring, think about whether you’d like your wedding band to match. There are several women’s milgrain wedding bands that would perfectly complement a milgrain engagement ring. Just make sure the size of your milgrain beads matches that of your engagement ring for a cohesive set! However, mixed plain and milgrain looks are just as lovely. Or, try a milgrain band with mixed metal to create an entirely new look.

Metal options

Because your milgrain will wear down over the years, it’s important to choose a metal setting that will last as long as possible. Platinum milgrain bands and those made with other durable metals—such as palladium and titanium—are great options for preserving milgrain for longer periods of time. In contrast, silver and white, yellow, or rose gold milgrain wedding bands require more maintenance and can lose beads quicker. However, rhodium plating on white gold will not affect your milgrain, so don’t let the regular rhodium treatments impact your decision!

Recommended retailers

Several retailers sell milgrain pieces, but here are our recommended online shops. You can expect quality milgrain collections and superior customer service with these companies:

  • Blue Nile: Assorted collections of milgrain wedding bands, engagement rings, and fashion jewelry
  • James Allen: Quality milgrain fashion jewelry and wedding bands
  • Brilliant Earth: Unique milgrain engagement rings, wedding bands, statement pieces, and fashion jewelry

The timeless appeal of milgrain

Milgrain is a simple yet beautiful way to give your jewelry a personalized touch. Whether you prefer vintage-inspired looks or modern inspiration, there’s a milgrain style that can suit your needs.

Overall, milgrain can even be added to a piece years after you’ve purchased it, and there are plenty of retailers who offer high-quality beadwork.

Now that you’ve decided on milgrain, what type of ring setting will you add it to? Take a look at these 15 popular ring settings to get inspired!

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