The delicate technique of filigree is ancient and examples are found in many cultures. The word itself describes the process, being derived from the Latin filum (thread) and granum (grain), extremely fine pieces of which are worked from metal, usually gold or silver, and soldered together to create exquisite jewels resembling lace.
Though filigree used to be an essential component of the jeweller's repertoire, it has in modern times become a speciality, and an endangered one at that. Fortunately, some dedicated jewellery houses are working to restore the popularity of filigree, highlighting its long history and now specialised nature as one of its desirable characteristics.
Two such houses are Kokku, whose founder hails from Sardinia and with his wife, intends to preserve that culture's rich artisanal filigree work; and Luis Mendez, who with his brothers Raúl and Jerónimo were trained by their father, also called Luis, and are carrying on a business begun by their grandfather in the Spanish filigree tradition.
A 'kokku' is a Sardinian amulet: a stone, usually obsidian, set in a silver ring and believed to ward off evil. The brand (above) was begun by Ansula and Andrea Usai, born of Andrea's pride in his Sardinian heritage and Ansula's love of the gorgeous traditional filigree jewellery given to her by Andrea. Their concern for the future of a tradition so old and intrinsic to Sardinian culture prompted them to 'preserve by promoting'. Kokku works exclusively with Sardinian master filigree craftsmen in an effort to offer a maximum both of support to the art form and of authenticity to its customers. Kokku also minimises its impact on the environment by using mostly recycled gold in its pieces. You can read more about the history and cultural role of Sardinian filigree and purchase items on their website.
In the case of Luis Mendez Artesanos, above, Luis and his brothers are the craftsmen and their livelihoods come entirely from the fruits of their workshop in the western Spanish province of Salamanca, where they have also established a gallery promoting the craft. Filigree was practised by the Moors of Spain and further varied and established there by Greek and Phoenician artisans in the 16th century, and the Mendez brothers still take a great deal of inspiration from the jewellery of this period. They work in both gold and silver and incorporate pearls and gems into many pieces. You can view their catalogue here and purchase Luis Mendez Artesanos through IFAM Online and Etsy.
Images taken from the Kokku, Luis Mendez Artesanos and IFAM Online websites.