Filigree is considered one of the most delicate types of jewellery metalworking. The art of filigree uses precious metals like gold or silver to create intricate works of art. Its fragility often makes us remember the texture of lace. Traditionally, this technique is connected to luxury design and fine craftsmanship. Secrets from Portugal brings you everything about the origin of this amazing technique that is deeply rooted in the Portuguese culture.
This ancient technique creates artworks with the finest beauty, often giving us the impression of being made with lace. Nowadays, it remains popular in India and Asia. In the past, it was common in Italy, France and Portugal, from 1660 to the late 19th century. In that time, filigree became very popular in French fashion.
Its name, “filigree”, derives from the union of the Latin “filum”, which means “thread”, with “granum”, which means small bead. Filigrana is the Italian name for this art, while filigrane is the French one. Not only is filigree still a wonderful and renowned jewellery technique in contemporary design, but it was also, since ancient times, a key part of the art pieces made by the jewellers, as we can see in the masterpieces created by the Etruscans and the Greeks. From the 6th to the 3rd century B.C., it is said that filigree reached perfection.
Filigree has its origin in Mesopotamia and Egypt. From Asia, it was exported to Europe. Thanks to archaeology, we could find evidence in ancient Mesopotamia relics that filigree is incorporated into jewellery since 3.000 B.C. There was even a special form of filigree in Midvat (Mardin Province, Mesopotamia), that used silver and gold wires. This technique was called “telkari” and it is still used by local craftsmen until this day.
One of filigree’s most popular ways of decoration, the granulated work, created with tiny beads and globules of gold soldered to form patterns on a metal surface, was applied by Mesopotamian craftsmen, but Sumerians were probably the first ones to practice this technique of metalwork.
Egyptian jewellers also worked with wire. However, they were only interested in precious metal chains, filigree art was not very popular among them, it was rare. Examples of round plaited gold chains of fine wire, similar to those made today in India, can still be seen around the world and are known as trichinopoly chains. These chains are often decorated with tiny fishes and other detailed ornaments.
The filigree designs from India and central Asia seem to be the most ancient ones and survived until today without any major changes. It is unsure if the Asian jewellers were influenced by the Greeks that came to their continent or if they were trained by them, but the truth is that Indian filigree artworks use the same patterns like the ones from the ancient Greeks and exactly the same techniques.
The filigree workers were itinerant, they tried to find gold, coined or rough. Then, they weighed it, heated it in a pan of charcoal, compressed into a wire and finally worked according to the designs of the master artisan. In the end, the final product was weighted, and the artists received their payment.
The fine grains, beads and spines of gold, barely with the thickness of a hair, were utilized and still appear in contemporary designs.
Tarakashi is a traditional filigree work created in Cuttack, from the eastern Indian state Odisha. These art pieces often used the images of the divine as inspiration and today are disappearing due to lack of support. The Silver Filigree of Karimnagar in Telangana state is going through the same path.
In Bengal, the karigars, revered by being the best makers of jewellery, are a huge part of the countries’ culture. Nowadays, the Indian jewellery industry is inspired by Odisha’s heritage. Gold filigree figures are still shining brightly, an average of 200 kilos of gold per day is crafted by the artisans. Jewellery from India is desired by other countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Today, Bengal is the centre of this art and craft in India. Gold filigree is still very popular, probably thanks to its cost-efficiency, design and its detailed craftsmanship.
In Odisha, master artisans usually work with silver and focus only on handmade production. The influence of the filigree craft and design was also crucial in the gold designs of places like Gujarat and South India. Diamond and gem jewellery is rising, but filigree remains as a favourite. Stay with us to find out more about this breathtaking ancient art all around the world.
Source: Covet Foundation
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