Metalworking Jewelry Techniques of the Millennia
With millennia of ancient metalworking jewelry techniques at our fingertips, it’s inevitable that jewelry continues to be influenced by time-old traditions. From Egyptian gilding to Damascus steel (that inspires our Mokume Gane fine jewelry), expert metalworkers are proud to carry on the legacy of these intricate methods.
Thanks to mineral-rich lands and affluent neighbors, Egyptian artisans in the 4th century BCE began to create intricate jewelry and beadwork. By 2300 BCE, gold leaf was featured on paintings, coffins, and furniture in royal tombs. Within a few centuries, gold leaf jewelry became an indicator of status.
Though many of the resting places of ancient Egyptian artifacts were looted by grave robbers, there are still excellent examples of metalworking that fascinate experts today.
What Is the Process of Gold Gilding?
The oldest document relating to gold leaf creation was discovered in a Saqqara tomb, dating from 2500 BCE. Gold leaf making began with a pure gold or gold-base alloy (often combined with silver and/or copper), and melted until the perfect color was attained.
In this hieroglyph, the gold-melting production was depicted with two figures using blowpipes to shape molten metal, while a figure hammered the metal with a round stone. It is understood that the hammering took thousands of expert strikes to achieve the perfect thinness.
This gold leafing technique also influenced the Roman Empire, the ceilings and walls of temples and palaces. It’s not difficult to see how this aesthetic was carried throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.
The process of creating gold leaf has changed dramatically from workers hand-hammering metals in a primitive workshop. Today, anyone can purchase gold leaf from a craft store, but the art of application is still deceivingly difficult.
The earliest findings of filigree come from Mesopotamia, specifically the province of Mardin (in modern-day Turkey). Perhaps one of the strongest influences on surrounding civilizations, the development of agriculture allowed people to remain in one place, rather than being forced to migrate. This – especially irrigation – sped the advance architecture and decoration, including jewelry.
Sumer – the southernmost region of Mesopotamia – were famous for their filigree metalworking. What’s more, archaeological digs have discovered the art in locations as far away as Ireland and Siberia!
What Exactly Is Filigree?
Filigree is a metalsmithing technique that twists and coils fine wires into complicated shapes, resembling lacework. It is an extremely delicate art that has infinite possibilities. Traditional metal artisans have incorporated small beads and extra soldering to create a more creative, one-of-a-kind piece.
Today, the art of “telkari” filigree continues to live on in the hands of Kurdish artisans in the city of Midyat.
Ancient Greek Enameling
Around 1300 BCE, Greek blacksmiths (near the present-day city of Argolis) began to decorate jewelry with enameling. Within a thousand years, enamel began to feature in statues and other three-dimensional artwork throughout the empire.
What Is Enameling?
A glass-like glaze was added to the surface of a hollow metal. This permanently merged the two materials, resulting in a strong, gemstone-like substance.
Over the centuries, there were fascinating developments in the art, such as gold cloisonné. Cloisonné was created by soldering precious metals in a variety of designs, then filling the open cells in with colorful enamel. Eventually, enamel powder was used to make pastes, allowing greater flexibility than temperamental liquid glass. By the 1600s, the Limoges enamel method was favored because it didn’t require any metal.
Enamel jewelry is still a popular art throughout the world, though there is a far greater market for antique versions.
Experts can’t pinpoint exactly where Damascus steel was first forged, but many agree that it began in southern India over 2,000 years ago. This metalworking method then traveled along the Silk Road, landing in modern-day Syria around 900 AD.
During the Crusades, invading English and French armies believed that these blades were capable of cutting through rock without losing its edge. Though metalworkers attempted to recreate the process back in Europe, they failed to capture the process
How Was Damascus Steel Made?
Two highly-purified, contrasting steels were welded and forged into billets (or solid blocks). As they were thinned out and twisted by hammering blows, swirling patterns formed and were then polished to enhance their appearance.
Damascus steel blade production disappeared sometime in the 18th century, though the process lives on in our Mokume Gane jewelry.
What Is Mokume Gane?
Beginning in the 1600s, swirling, natural patterns began to appear on the handles and sheaths of samurai katanas. After the fall of Feudal Japan, metalworkers began to shift their focus away from bladework and towards hammered metal jewelry production.
Jaume Labro: Where Tradition Meets Ingenuity
At Jaume Labro, we produce Mokume Gane jewelry that reveres time-honored traditions and contemporary design. Whether simple or elaborate, your one-of-a-kind piece is sourced from conflict-free gemstones and ethical gold.