Filigree (also spelled filagree) can be defined as a kind of jewelry metalwork involving fine wires which are soldered together into an artistic design. Filigree wires can be arranged, twisted or braided and then soldered onto a metal backing or can be soldered onto an open backed frame. One way of describing filigree is ‘delicate tracery’. Although related to cannetille, filigree is primarily flat work whereas cannetille is three dimensional. Of course, the two techniques are often combined. Filigree can also be combined with granulation. Some sources describe cannetille as being a type of filigree and some describe it as being something separate. Filigree is also related to ajoure jewelry work, but ajoure differs as it involves drilling holes in sheet metal, whereas filigree work is entirely soldered or possibly twisted together with no solder (as is the case with Berlin Iron jewelry).
Filigree work was especially popular in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian jewelry from 1660 until the late 19th century. I have also seen a lot of Art Deco era pieces involving filigree. I believe it has been popular consistently throughout each era but is particularly associated with traditional and folk jewelry. There have also always been cast pieces which resemble genuine filigree work; these are not as delicate or fine and can be differentiated upon close inspection. It is important when evaluating filigree work that you look for broken wires. Unfortunately, filigree work is very delicate and many surviving early pieces are damaged.
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