Filigree (formerly written filigrann or filigrane) is a jewel work of a delicate kind made with twisted threads usually of gold and silver or stitching of the same curvy motif.
It oftens suggests lace, and is most popular in French fashion decoration from 1660 to the present.
Filigree involves threads being soldered together to form an object and ajoure involves holes being punched, drilled, or cut through an existing piece of metal.
The word, which is usually derived from the Latin filum, thread, and granum, grain, is not found in Ducange, and is indeed of modern origin.
According to Prof. Skeat it is derived from the Spanish filigrana, from "filar", to spin, and grano, the grain or principal fibre of the material.
Though filigree has become a special branch of jewel work in modern times, it was anciently part of the ordinary work of the jeweler.
The Egyptian jewelers employed wire, both to lay down on a background and to plait or otherwise arrange d jour. But, with the exception of chains, it cannot be said that filigree work was much practiced by them.
Their strength lay ra
ther in their cloisonné work and their molded ornaments.
In ornaments derived from Phoenician sites, such as Cyprus and Sardinia, patterns of gold wire are laid down with great delicacy on a gold ground, but the art was advanced to its highest perfection in the Greek and Etruscan filigree of the 6th to the 3rd centuries BC.
A number of earrings and other personal ornaments found in central Italy are preserved in the Louvre and in the British Museum.
Almost all of them are made of filigree work. Some earrings are in the form of flowers of geometric design, bordered by one or more rims each made up of minute volutes of gold wire, and this kind of ornament is varied by slight differences in the way of disposing the number or arrangement of the volutes.
But the feathers and petals of modern Italian filigree are not seen in these ancient designs. Instances occur, but only rarely, in which filigree devices in wire are self-supporting and not applied to metal plates.
It is probable that in India and various parts of central Asia filigree has been worked from the most remote period without any change in the designs.
Whether the Asiatic jewellers were influenced by the Greeks who settled on that continent, or merely trained under traditions held in common with them, it is certain that the Indian filigree workers retain the same patterns as those of the ancient Greeks and work them in the same way, down to the present day.
Wandering workmen are given so much gold, coined or rough, which is weighed, heated in a pan of charcoal, beaten into wire, and then worked in the courtyard or verandah of the employer's house according to the designs of the artist, who weighs the complete work on restoring it and is paid at a specified rate for his labour.
Very fine grains or beads and spines of gold, scarcely thicker than coarse hair, projecting from plates of gold are methods of ornamentation still used.
Calcutta is a famous place for filigri work, traditionally known as Calcutti Work. Cuttack in the eastern India state of Orissa, is also famous for its filigree work. Due to lack of patronage and modern design ideas this is a dying art. Most filigree work revolve around images of Gods and Goddesses.
Passing to later times we may notice in many collections of medieval jewel work (such as that in the Victoria and Albert Museum) reliquaries, covers for the gospels, etc., made either in Constantinople from the 6th to the 12th centuries, or in monasteries in Europe, in which Byzantine goldsmiths' work was studied and imitated.
These objects, besides being enriched with precious stones, polished, but not cut into facets, and with enamel, are often decorated with filigree. Large surfaces of gold are sometimes covered with scrolls of filigree soldered on; and corner pieces of the borders of book covers, or the panels of reliquaries, are frequently made up of complicated pieces of plaited work alternating with spaces encrusted with enamel.
Byzantine filigree work occasionally has small stones set amongst the curves or knots.
Examples of such decoration can be seen in the Victoria and Albert, and British Museums.
In the north of Europe the Saxons, Britons and Celts were from an early period skillful in several kinds of goldsmiths' work.
Admirable examples of filigree patterns laid down in wire on gold, from Anglo-Saxon tombs, may be seen in the British Museum notably a brooch from Dover, and a sword-hilt from Cumberland. The Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver (estimated 700 CE) discovered in a field in Staffordshire, England, on 5 July 2009 contains numerous examples of very fine filigree described by Archaeologist Dr Kevin Leahy as "incredible".
Much of the medieval jewel work all over Europe down to the 15th century, on reliquaries, crosses, croziers and other ecclesiastical goldsmiths' work, is set off with bosses and borders of filigree.
Filigree work in silver was practised by the Moors of Spain during the Middle Ages with great skill, and was introduced by them and established all over the Peninsula, whence it was carried to the Spanish colonies in America. The Spanish filigree work of the 17th and 18th centuries is of extraordinary complexity , and silver filigree jewelry of delicate and artistic design is still made in considerable quantities throughout the country.
The manufacture spread over the Balearic Islands, and among the populations that border the Mediterranean. It is still made all over Italy, and in Portugal, Malta, Macedonia, Albania, the Ionian Islands and many other parts of Greece. That of the Greeks is sometimes on a large scale, with several thicknesses of wires alternating with larger and smaller bosses and beads, sometimes set with turquoises, etc, and mounted on convex plates, making rich ornamental headpieces, belts and breast ornaments.
Silver filigree brooches and buttons are also made in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Little chains and pendants are added to much of this northern work.
The art may be said to consist in curling, twisting and plaiting fine pliable threads of metal, and uniting them at their points of contact with each other, and with the ground, by means of gold or silver solder and borax, by the help of the blowpipe. Small grains or beads of the same metals are often set in the eyes of volutes, on the junctions, or at intervals at which they will set off the wire-work effectively.
The more delicate work is generally protected by framework of stouter wire.
Brooches, crosses, earrings and other personal ornaments of modern filigree are generally surrounded and subdivided by bands of square or flat metal, giving consistency to the filling up, which would not otherwise keep its proper shape.
from WikipediaFiligree necklaces