What is filigree?
The word filigree derives from the Latin filum + granum. The term refers to the granulated gold thread obtained from the twisting of two threads, no thicker than a hair, which is then beaten. The process gives the thread an unmistakable texture, characteristic of Portuguese filigree.
The origins of Filigree
The technique allegedly appeared around 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, and it was possibly the Phoenicians who introduced it in the Iberian Peninsula. FIligree pieces have also been found in some Iron Age ornaments found in the terroritory that constitutes modern Portugal.
Over the centuries it found its use in different types of goldsmithery and jeweller either as an ornamental or an integral technique.
The golden age of filigree in Portugal
In the 19th century, with the advent of popular jewellery, filigree gain relevance, becoming a highly regarded technique.
From that moment on, the ever intensifying production reached a level of excellence. Especially in the two northern production centres that still survive nowadays: Gondomar and Póvoa de Lanhoso.
Filigree pieces were then worn amidst celebrations and pilgrimage days. This period coined the well-known some of the most representative filigree pieces, such as heart-shaped pendants, the reliquaries, the Maltese crosses, the "arrecadas" earrings and the "à rainha" earrings.
Time for continuity and innovation
Throughout the 20th century filigree was a central part of Portuguese goldsmithery, both in the production of ornaments and in objects for personal or decorative use.
However,it suffered a decline during the last decades of the century, due to the stagnation of models, economic crises and changes in popular taste.