Derived from the Latin word "filum" (meaning thread), filigree is an ancient art form that has been appreciated as far back as 2500 B.C. Twisted and formed to closely resemble lace, filigree refers to the openwork design of an exquisitely entwined bouquet of fine silver, gold or other metal threads. This lacing of metal was originally used to decorate personal ornaments including manuscript covers, armor, crosses and royal crowns.
The rich history of filigree can be found in several ancient civilizations from Egyptian to Persian, extending throughout the Greek, Early Renaissance, Romanticism and Art Nouveau eras. Distinguished illustrations of filigree remain admired today, with many artifacts stored in locations around the world including the Vatican Museum in Venice, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London.
From its fabrication during the Egyptian period, the tradition of filigree maintained its charm over the course of thousands of years. It wasn’t until the late 4th century, during the Greek era, that gemstones such as pearls, garnets and sapphires were introduced into filigree work. Signifying an appearance of elegance and sophistication, filigree decoration remained constant until its alteration in the early 20th century. During his reign, fashion-forward King Edward VII transformed the original filigree with a monochromatic look for jewelry designs by combining metals, such as platinum, with colorless gemstones like diamonds. It was during this Art Nouveau era that the art of filigree jewelry became very popular.
Although creating filigree is a specialized skill for the present-day jeweler, in ancient times this completely handcrafted technique was a customary skill of all jewelers. Today, modern-day technology allows filigree designs to be machine-cast and mass-produced making these components affordable to the modern jewelry designer.
Over the past few centuries, filigree has been constructed in many cultures and varied in form and pattern. However, the elegance, beauty and superb craftsmanship of filigree has remained fascinating and continued its ongoing popularity. Today, filigree is available in a wide range of jewelry styles for both men and women. Here is a look at a few fashionable styles, including design ideas for creative inspiration.