Though jewelry trends may come and go, one thing is certain: people love to adorn themselves with beautiful designs. Check out this list of nine incredible jewelry making and design techniques that have made a lasting impression on the world.
1. Mokume Gane
Initially, the Mokume Gane technique was developed for katana-making in feudal Japan, where wood-like patterns were revealed in metal with only a hammer and chisel. In recent decades, this revered tradition has been revived for fine jewelry making.
In this process, layers of contrasting colored metal alloys like copper, silver, and gold were forged together into billets or solid blocks. Today, additional metals may also include platinum and palladium to give Mokume Gane a more modern approach, as well as a longer lifespan.
Once layers of these metals are forged, these blocks are further flattened in half of their original thickness using rounded hammers. From here, the carving and manipulation of these metals begins, until the desired pattern takes shape. Finally, the artisan will take a slice of this metal to file and bend into a piece of fine jewelry. One of the most remarkable qualities of this art form is that no two creations are identical to each other.
True masters know that there is no machine that can create true, quality Mokume Gane, and with the advancement of metallurgy, these custom jewelry pieces stand up to the rigors of daily life.
2. Dichroic Glass
Dichroic glass is a fascinating and colorful way to create jewelry. While it is actually one of the simplest methods of jewelry-making on this list, its optical effects can be just as stunning.
Romans discovered the ability to create a dichroic glass material by using colloidal gold and silver particles in certain proportions when making glass. The Lycurgus Cup in London is a perfect example of truly remarkable dichroic glass. This sensational piece gives off a green hue in reflected light, yet a violet when lit from behind. Unfortunately, it is the only complete Roman dichroic piece remaining.
The dichroic glass we use today was initially discovered in the late 1800s when scientists attempted to deposit thin films of metal on a surface. What’s more, the same technology has had an enormous impact on lasers, infrared guidance, and optical technologies.
Modern dichroic glass starts as a piece of regular glass but is coated with vaporized quartz, glass and metal oxides like titanium, aluminum, and magnesium with an electron beam gun. This film is forever adhered to the glass and will display a metallic shimmer.
Pre-made dichroic glass can be purchased wholesale but needs to be fused with another substance to give it depth and stability. Dichroic glass can be fired multiple times to build a unique jewelry design, and these variations will create a completely one-of-a-kind item.
3. The Mystery Set
One of the most important and iconic of all 20th-century jewelry innovations was the Van Cleef & Arpels’ “Serti Mysterieux”, or “Mystery Set.” Patented by the company in 1933, this invisible gemstone setting provided an all-jewel look without any visible metal mounts or prongs through the use of grooves and rails. While the concept was not dreamt up or discovered by Van Cleef & Arpels, it was certainly perfected by the company in 1933.
Unlike a typical jewelry setting, the Mystery Setting requires the stones to be meticulously color-matched stones which are then cut to fit perfectly against one another. The first stone’s girdle – or the widest part of a gemstone’s circumference – is lined up with its neighbor’s girdle, which has been cut with incredibly tiny marks. Next, grooves of metal are created, and the stones are moved or placed within them, creating a mystifying piece that looks truly impossible.
Only a few years after perfecting this technique, Van Cleef & Arpels received another patent for using the Mystery Setting on three-dimensional pieces. Fashion jewelry like rings, brooches, and earrings continue to receive this incredibly special treatment today.
4. Victorian Hair Jewelry
It’s no secret that the Victorians were obsessed with sentimentalism as well as the macabre, going so far as to make jewelry with their living and deceased family and friends’ hair. At this point in history, it was common to encounter death quite regularly, and creating hair wreaths and jewelry assisted in the mourning process, as well as creating a family tree of remembrance that could be added to over the years.
These unusual jewelry pieces were further popularized during the reign of Queen Victoria, who continuously wore her late husband’s hair in a locket around her neck for forty years. In the United States, women could even purchase elaborate hair jewelry patterns from shops and mail-order magazines. Not only were the dead commemorated with these odd creations, but female friends in the 1800s would often give locks of hair to their closest friends as mementos of friendship.
Though the technique and practice have long since waned in popularity, it is still possible to uncover human hair wreaths and jewelry in antique stores and attics.
5. Portrait Miniature
From the 16th to 18th centuries, portrait miniatures were used to carry a loved one’s visage discreetly in a pocket or traveling case, or to decorate watch cases, jewelry boxes, and virtually any other personal effect. These personalized jewelry pieces were incredibly popular throughout Europe, and in addition to being a memento, were often sent along with a marriage proposal (common when meeting on your wedding day was normal). Additionally, tiny versions of famous artworks, landscapes, and tourist sites were created to commemorate special occasions.
The process of producing these miniatures developed over the centuries, starting with crude watercolor on vellum (calfskin) which was then attached to a playing card for stability. Italians and Germans preferred oil paints on copper, though eventually, enamel on copper became the method of choice for developing these tiny creations. Sixteenth-century miniature tools were primitive. For paintbrushes, squirrel hair was attached to feathers, as well as a weasel’s tooth attached to a handle. Paints were hand-mixed by artists and sourced from minerals, insects, and metal leaf.
By the end of the 18th-century, miniatures were highly influenced by the Romanticism movement, and watercolor was painted on ivory with specially made brushes and factory-produced paints. The introduction of photography in the 19th-century caused this art form to fade out.
Enameling dates to the 13th-century B.C. on the island of Cyprus, and has been used by innumerable civilizations to strengthen metalwork and entice owners with their enormous range of gorgeous colors.
Traditionally, gold, silver, bronze, or iron is coated with porcelain enamel, which is made from liquefied glass or silica. Additionally substances like borax or soda helps to create colorful, translucent, or opaque surfaces. When applied, cooled and fired, this glass hardens smoothly and durably. There is a wide range of enamel techniques, including the champlevé, cloisonné, and plique-à-jour.
Celts utilized the champlevé technique, wherein they engraved the base metal with graceful curled designs. Next, they poured a translucent or colorful enamel inside. Occasionally, these stunning pieces are found intact in hoards throughout the United Kingdom, and are a delight for any museum and antiquities expert.
Byzantine artisans developed the cloisonné technique by soldering metal wires or strips to a metal base, then pouring differently colored enamel pastes. After setting the enamel, the jewelry needs to be kiln-fired in order to permanently solidify the piece.
Plique-à-jour, or ‘letting in daylight,’ is likely the most difficult of all enamel-based jewelry design, owing to its delicate structure, and has the lowest success rate. In Japan, plique-à-jour is known as shotai-jippo. This technique suspends translucent enamel in fine metal wires, similar to stained glass, where there is no backing.
The Art Nouveau era saw a resurgence in enamel-based jewelry, and Tiffany & Co. is best known for its expert enamel work, which is highly sought-after by collectors.
7. Venetian Glass Jewelry
Venetian glass, also known as Murano glass, has been produced for centuries. Due to its proximity to Constantinople, Byzantine glass artisans escaped to Venice after the Crusades and Ottoman invasion, bringing their incredible mastery with them. Soon after, Venice became the unparalleled center for breathtaking glasswork technique and artistry.
The Murano glass technique begins with pure silica. Sand often contains various impurities which can cause structural defects. Therefore, quartz pebbles and stones are used. These stones are heated and submerged in cold water to draw out impurities. Next, the cooled quartz is pulverized to provide a perfect silica base. Next, a ‘fluxing agent’ like soda ash is added in order to lower the glass’ melting point and offers artisans the ability to melt glass in a wood-fired oven. Before firing, manganese is often added, which not only combats discoloration but keeps molten glass malleable much longer.
Once ready for firing, a ‘frit,’ or blocks, are heated and fused. The ‘frit’ may be remelted and skimmed for adulteration multiple times. When the artisan is satisfied with its quality, the glass product is heated until liquid and cooled slightly. This is when glass can be manipulated and shaped.
Though the market has been inundated with poorer quality imposters, true Venetian glass jewelry creates only the highest-quality beads and pendants. These are highly desired by collectors, even centuries later, for their meticulous jewelry making and design techniques.
Filigree is an incredibly delicate form of gold or silver metalworking, typically decorated with small beads or twisted metal threads, and soldered to either another thread or an object of the same material. These handcrafted jewelry designs are composed of varying and complicated lacework shape which have been used for at least 3,000 years. It is one of the most geographically diverse jewelry styles, and has been found in Etruscan, Scythian, Egyptian, Celtic and Mesopotamian artifacts.
There is no limit to the creativity that filigree provides its artists, with its infinite twists, braids, and designs. Amazingly, though it’s an incredibly complicated art for any modern jewelry designer, filigree was once a common skill for all metalworkers. Today, many filigree designs come out of India, where the artform has remained almost identical over centuries.
9. Intaglio and Cameo
Carvings have been celebrated for millennia as ways to tell stories of war, love, and religion. Created from one material, cameo and intaglio are engravings that function as both keepsake and art, memorializing a person’s visage or major drama into a tiny form meant to be worn. A cameo has a raised image, unlike an intaglio which has a negative one.
Cameo and intaglio can be made from any carvable material, including plastic, but historically, stone, coral, ivory, and glass have been the most popular. The most delicate and treasured intaglio and cameo were created entirely with a hammer and chisel (except glass objects) and were typically worn as jewelry pieces, specifically signet rings and earrings. Sometimes, dyes were used to enhance the material.
Today, most intaglio and cameo are machine-cut and consist of cutting through layered agate. Understandably, there are very few gemstone cutters today who are able to carry out this task without machinery.
Jewelry trends can be as fleeting as they are ageless, and Jaume Labro’s classic designs are created to impress and awe for generations.When you buy our Mokume Gane rings, pendants or earrings, you’re not just purchasing jewelry: you’re buying a piece of history. Browse our ethical gold and eco-friendly diamond pieces for inspiration today.