The origin of the filigree dates back to the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia. The oldest pieces date back to 2500 BC and were discovered in the, today, Iraq. Other pieces, discovered in Syria, date from approximately 2100 B.C.
It arrived in Europe via trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea, where it became relatively popular in the Greek and Roman civilizations. The oldest discoveries of filigree jewellery were made in modern Italy and are estimated to be from the 18th century. However, the filigree continued its journey and crossed borders to India and China. In the Far East, it was used mainly as a decorative element and not as jewellery.
But how does filigree differ from other jewellery arts?
In the way different fine threads draw patterns and are welded together in order to create a much larger piece. No other jewellery art uses a similar fusion technique to join gold threads. Today – as thousands of years ago – the different threads that make up each piece come together only by heat, without resorting to any other material or alloy.
The oldest filigree pieces discovered in the Iberian Peninsula date back to 2000 – 2500 BC, but their origin is unclear. Possibly, these pieces belonged to traders or navigators originating in the Middle East and were not manufactured here.
Only during the rule of the Romans, during the century. II BC, began to exist in the Peninsula.
But only thousands of years later, in the century. VIII, we were able to ensure with certainty that the filigree was being developed and produced in Portugal. It was with the arrival of Arab peoples that new patterns emerged and that, little by little, the filigree of the Peninsula began to differentiate itself from the filigree of other parts of the world.
The Portuguese filigree mostly represents nature, religion and love:
– the sea is represented with fish, shells, waves and boats;
– nature is the inspiration of flowers, clovers and wreaths;
Other iconic symbols of Portuguese filigree:
– The heart of Viana: a symbol of dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Queen Maria I was the one who, thankful for the “blessing” of having been given a male son, ordered a heart to be executed in gold.
Over time, the heart started to be related to “profane love”, a symbol of the connection between two human beings. It became so popular that the cornucopias and the lines of Coração de Viana began to be reproduced on handkerchiefs and embroidered on all types of fabrics. Eventually, this brought the recognition and popularity of Coração de Viana to the present day.
– Queen’s earrings: it is almost unanimous that queen earrings appeared in Portugal during the reign of Queen D. Maria I (1734 – 1816). The origin of the name, this, seems to go back to the reign of D. Maria II (1819 – 1853), who wore a pair of these earrings on a visit to Viana do Castelo in 1852. After this visit, they became popular as a symbol of wealth and status and won the name “queen earrings”.
– The arrecadas: they started being the earrings of the most humble population and that the most privileged classes started to imitate. At its origin were the Castrejas stonework, inspired by the quarter moon.
Today, filigree manufacturing in Portugal is mainly concentrated in the areas of Gondomar and Póvoa do Lanhoso. The proximity of the raw material – coming, for example, from the mountains of Pias and Banjas – made the region one of the most notable nuclei of the Portuguese jewellery. Even today, in 2018, Gondomar is responsible for 60% of the national jewellery production.
A curiosity: Portuguese gold is 19.2 carats (pure gold is 24).