sailing ship

sailing ship

By

Wendy Hughes

 

Nesting between the mountains of the Lugurian Appennines sits the town of Campo Ligure, home of the ancient craft of filigree jewellery. It takes these dedicated artists 7 hours to create a lacy brooch and some twenty-five hours to produce a more elaborate table ornament. Brooches are the most popular item produced, but other items range from earrings, boxes filled with sweets, that are traditionally given as wedding presents by Italian bridal couples, through to sailing ships, ornate baskets to a two-storey birdcage.

bird-cage

bird-cage

The art of filigree has a very long tradition and basically consists of bending and braiding very thin gold or silver threads and reuniting them. It obtains its name from the Latin ‘filum’ (thread) and ‘granum’ (grain) and dates back more than 4,000 years when the artists of Asia Minor created the first filigree gold jewellery. It was the ancient Egyptians who were amongst the first to coil paper-like strands of silver and gold into patterns and solder then onto a solid backing, and some of this fine filigree jewellery was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Most probably it was the ancient traders who helped to spread the unusual techniques throughout the Mediterranean.

brooch

brooch

By early 1800 Genoa was the centre of filigree work with over 4,000 artisans working from around 200 workshops, and it was many of the apprentices of these craftsmen who settled in Campo Ligure. The artists transforms some twenty pounds of pure silver each day, and sixty-six pounds of gold annually into commercial goods that generate more than four million lire a year.

close up of filigree

close up of filigree

The art of filigree work is fascinating to watch. First the artist puts the silver into a small stone melting pot, called the crogiolo,’ made of graphite stone, so that it can be heated to 950C without cracking the pot, and it takes 10 minutes to melt the silver.   In a conventional oven it would take an hour. The liquid is then poured into 3ft long metal bars, each gouged with grooves in varying depths, and left to harden into long thin sticks. When they have solidified, the sticks are pulled through a mill to stretch each one.   Two more ‘heating’s’ are necessary to keep the silver pliable during the process. Each stick is then filled down at one end to a crude point and, with a pair of pliers the sticks are threaded through a diamond-shaped hole made into the upright record-like plate. The process is repeated through several disks, each with a hole smaller than the last, to make the silver wire even thinner. The wire is then threaded onto a large spool and fired again to keep it pliable, before it is divided between two spools and fitted to a machine that twists the two strands together. Another machine flattens them to give the finished metal thread the serrated look that is so characteristic of filigree lace work.

filigree bowl

filigree bowl

Each workshop has its own set of unique designs, and some have up to 1,000 different jealously-guarded blueprints that have been handed down from generation to generation. After choosing the pattern of their choice, the artisans choose the diameter of the desired thread according to the piece they are going to produce. Using a pair of tweezers they take a length of wire, and then with their fingers gently coax the metal into the required round, oval, oblong or S shape required.   Reaching for a template of their creation – made of a thicker silver and copper wire to act as a girdle to hold the pieces in place – they arrange their segments within the frame with the tweezers.

 

Through the centuries two techniques have been used to finish off the jewellery making. In one the wire is anchored with solder on to a backing of sheet metal, and in the other, the design is openwork and unsupported, fitted together within a tight framework. In due course, the Venetians, who prided themselves on their extravagant work, decorated their creations with enamel.

filigree museum

filigree museum

There are many magnificent unique examples of filigree work to be seen at Campo Ligure’s Museum which is dedicated to the ancient art and well worth a visit, Here you will find some very fine examples including a Russian Icon encased in filigree, a fragile looking chest, hand mirrors and doll’s house furniture, but the highlight of the collection must be a 16thC suit of armour made by Silvio Piombo and his son for the filigree fair in Campo Ligure in 1968.

 

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.