Silver Filigree

Filigree is a form of intricate metalwork used in jewellery and other small forms of metalwork. 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.

It should not be confused with Ajoure jewellery work, the ajoure technique consisting of drilling holes in objects made of sheet metal.

Filigree is a well known craft in the states of Odisha and Telengana.

The craftsmen who belong to the Sunar, goldsmith, community of Orissa, practice the craft which was introduced in the state during Mughal rule.

Silver biscuits (999) and 2% copper are the main raw materials used in the process. Blocks of pure silver are converted to very fine hair-like wires using a wire drawing machine. The thinnest wires are heated and wrapped around a charkha and flattened again. They are then crimped again into a zigzag structure depending upon the selected designs. 

The craftsmanship lies in fitting the small parts perfectly in the frame. Decorative and elaborate motifs influenced by the Mughal era have inspired the intricate designs produced by the craftsmen. They make jewelry and decorative figures like idols of gods, animals and replicas of the Konark wheel and the Taj Mahal. The process includes wire being drawn and then pressed in different shapes. The smaller articles are directly molded into various designs. For larger ones, smaller components are made and pieced together. 

The designs and themes are chosen from the flora and fauna and the geometric patterns. The space within the frame is filled with the main ribs of the design which are usually, stems, leaves, creepers etc.

Filigree work of Orissa is an example of a great artistic excellence which is rarely found in India.
Cuttack is the hub of silver filigree locally known as ‘tarkasijewelry‘ attracting people from all over the world.

Karimnagar silver filigree derives its name from a town called Karimnagar, district in Telangana state. In local language, filigree is referred to as, Vendi teega pani-silver wirework. Pure silver is melted and moulded into required shapes. Since 19th Century AD, the craftsmen of Karimnagar produced rich intricate trellis made by twisting silver wire, which referred as Jaali. It is believed that silver filigree craft was adopted from Elgandal town near Karimnagar before it moved to Karimnagar town nearly 200 years ago.

Earlier, silver ingots were beaten by hand on an anvil and elongated into a long wire by passing it through a wire gauge. The finest wires are still made in the old drawing technique, then finished and flattened.
In the present field research and enquiry in Karimnagar town, it has come to light that this craft was introduced by a widely travelled expert goldsmith, Kadarla Ramayya – resident of Yalagandala (Elgandal) who learned and absorbed this new filigree jewel technique and style.

The main difference between the filigree work of Odisha and Telangana is in the process.
In Karimnagar, two round wires are interwined adding tensility to the frame; In Odisha, only one square wire is used.

While reading about this beautiful craftwork, I came across the blog of Ruby Singh. Do check out her experience of witnessing Filigree work in Cuttack.

Also, you can read more on the Google Arts & Culture.