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The Most Luxury Chinese Traditional Jewelry Technique- Filigree Inlaying
2019-03-06

Among all the Chinese traditional techniques of making jewelry, filigree inlaying is definitely the most eyes catching one, because of the extraordinary skills and pure elegance reflected from the thin silver/gold threads.


The filigree inlaying was recognized as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of China in 2008. However, as a traditional jewelry skill, it is still not so well-known. When talking about “luxury jewelry,” most Chinese people only have in mind the imagines of western luxury brands and their shining diamonds and colored stones, instead of linking “luxury” to our traditional techniques.


However, by looking at just one famous photo of filigree inlaying art piece, you will understand why I say it is pure luxury.


 This is the Crown of Wanli Emperor (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty. The entire crown was made by silver threads of 0.2mm. Even with the complicated and “looks heavy” pattern of two dragons playing balls on the top, the crown only weights for 826g. More amazing, you cannot see one single joint on the crown!

 

The usually complicated patterns of filigree inlaying requests for fine silver or gold as the necessary materials, which are softer and easier for formatting. Not only the material is expensive, by looking closer into the eight steps of filigree inlaying techniques below, but you will also understand better what I meant by “luxury”:


1.  Layering

The silver needs to be layered into small silver bullions to be prepared for the next step of wire drawing.


 

 


2.    Wire drawing

The threads for filigree have to be thin enough to make precise patterns. The silver bullions will pass wire drawing board which may have around 40-50 different sizes of holes to help to make different sizes of threads. Sometimes it could take more than ten times wire drawing to reach a wanted result.


 




3.    Nipping

The threads will be shaped into different patterns by using tweezers and hammers, which would require endless patience to make just one accessory.




 

4.    Filing

The accessories of the jewelry are now ready to be filled into the blanks of mold prepared.





5.    Stacking

If a piece of jewelry contains more than two types of patterns, then we will need to “stack” these patterns together.



 

6.    Plating

 To put different types of mold together is called plating. To fit different kinds of a frame into each other is again a step of trying and adjusting of a long time.


 



7.    Jointing

Jointing is necessary to make sure each part stick together and stable enough for long time wearing. It happens quite often that the threads are melted during jointing due to the high temperature. Only those sophisticated masters are capable of joint a piece of filigree jewelry without any flaw. 0.02-0.05mm threads are not something everyone can work on!



 

8.    Inlaying

Inlaying is the last step of Filigree Inlaying skill. People believe this final step is as  “to dot the eyes of a painted dragon.“ Even this is only one step, and it brings life to the jewelry!



 


Imagine that:  you have to work on a piece of filigree jewelry by thin threads and are not allowed to make one mistake, because it will destroy the whole piece of jewelry; Sounds like a mission impossible, right? Miss Stone tried once recently and spent a full day making a small and simple piece, and achieved an embarrassing semi-made result as below:



 

 

The filigree inlay art has been an import part of Chinese jewelry history for the past two thousand years. It has been a pity that this art is fading away a bit. Luckily, in some parts of China such as Beijing, Chengdu and Guizhou province, we can still find many artisans who are still able to practice this skill and create beautiful art pieces. We truly hope more people will learn, understand and fall in love with it, just like us.

 

 

Check out your filigree inlaying jewelry by clicking here.

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