The English word filigree is shortened from the earlier use of filigreen which
derives from Latin "filum" meaning thread and "granum" grain,
in the sense of small bead.



“It takes thousands of attempts to get right and the threads can be as thin as a hair. The way we bend the material will never be the same, we can bend the threads a little bit more or a little bit less, machines can’t do this. It seems simple but it requires a lot of labour and technique and I think this is what true art is”, reveals Mr. Rocha, one of the last filigree experts in Portugal.

Building the filigree sculptures was one of the greatest challenges for the small atelier in the north of Portugal. “We have to study each piece, we try and try and try until it is perfect, one has to go over the limit”, reminding the artisans’ effort and daily commitment by trying, and failing, and repeating. “I want to do new things, I want innovation, but always with a base of tradition and while improving the technique and respecting the art”.

“When crafting a filigree piece, the end result is always different, if you look closely, each piece is unique. But this is what handcrafted means. It is hand-crafted work, a work of love”.

Mr. Rocha rejoices to see young designers interested in this technique, “the designers give us a rough sketch and we build the piece, improving it with our personal touch, changing small things here and there. We need to update this art, we need to improve the technique and respect tradition while looking into the future”. It’s great to see young people interested in our work, they have ideas from their own time but even a designer needs to know
the technique before he creates the piece.

“I work with my hands and my hands only”.

A powerful thought from a devotee that learned the craft with his father at the age of eight, “my grandfather was a Goldsmith so this art has been in the family for over a hundred years. If my health allows me, I will l be working until I am 80 years old”. In the old days there were around 120 artisans, and in less than ten years there are only 12 filigree artists in Portugal. There are a lot of items conceived by machines naming it as filigree, but then
there are things that engines will never be able to do.

Filigree is the most delicate technique used to work precious metals, usually of gold and silver. It is an age old and detailed jewelry expression in which skilled artisans painstakingly solder tiny beads and twisted threads to create striking artistic motifs, suggesting often an exquisite and intricate lace-like patterns. Firstly, the metal is stretched until it becomes a very fine thread, it can have different weights. It takes a small piece and bends, twists, folds, and wraps the wire-like metal to form the desire shape. The fine wire elements are soldered together.

The art of filigree was born during Roman period and it was passed down through the generations of skilled medieval jewelers, often emulating the work of the Byzantine goldsmiths of Constantinople, embellished crosses, reliquaries and the covers of bibles. Later, the filigree became very popular in the French fashion world from the 60’s until today. And actually, countries such as India, Italy, and Portugal, have been treasuring it.

The English word filigree is shortened from the earlier use of filigreen which derives from Latin "filum" meaning thread and "granum" grain, in the sense of small bead. The Latin words gave filigrana
in Italian which itself became filigrane in 17th-century French.