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The Most Luxury Chinese Traditional Jewelry Technique- Filigree Inlaying

Miss Stone

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Miss Stone


Among all the Chinese traditional techniques of making jewelry, filigree inlaying is definitely the most eyes catching one, because of the extraordinary skills and pure elegance reflected from the thin silver/gold threads.


The filigree inlaying was recognized as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of China in 2008. However, as a traditional jewelry skill, it is still not so well-known. When talking about “luxury jewelry,” most Chinese people only have in mind the imagines of western luxury brands and their shining diamonds and colored stones, instead of linking “luxury” to our traditional techniques.


However, by looking at just one famous photo of filigree inlaying art piece, you will understand why I say it is pure luxury.


 This is the Crown of Wanli Emperor (1573-1620) of the Ming Dynasty. The entire crown was made by silver threads of 0.2mm. Even with the complicated and “looks heavy” pattern of two dragons playing balls on the top, the crown only weights for 826g. More amazing, you cannot see one single joint on the crown!



The usually complicated patterns of filigree inlaying requests for fine silver or gold as the necessary materials, which are softer and easier for formatting. Not only the material is expensive, by looking closer into the eight steps of filigree inlaying techniques below, but you will also understand better what I meant by “luxury”:


1.  Layering

The silver needs to be layered into small silver bullions to be prepared for the next step of wire drawing.





2.    Wire drawing

The threads for filigree have to be thin enough to make precise patterns. The silver bullions will pass wire drawing board which may have around 40-50 different sizes of holes to help to make different sizes of threads. Sometimes it could take more than ten times wire drawing to reach a wanted result.






3.    Nipping

The threads will be shaped into different patterns by using tweezers and hammers, which would require endless patience to make just one accessory.





4.    Filing

The accessories of the jewelry are now ready to be filled into the blanks of mold prepared.





5.    Stacking

If a piece of jewelry contains more than two types of patterns, then we will need to “stack” these patterns together.




6.    Plating

 To put different types of mold together is called plating. To fit different kinds of a frame into each other is again a step of trying and adjusting of a long time.





7.    Jointing

Jointing is necessary to make sure each part stick together and stable enough for long time wearing. It happens quite often that the threads are melted during jointing due to the high temperature. Only those sophisticated masters are capable of joint a piece of filigree jewelry without any flaw. 0.02-0.05mm threads are not something everyone can work on!




8.    Inlaying

Inlaying is the last step of Filigree Inlaying skill. People believe this final step is as  “to dot the eyes of a painted dragon.“ Even this is only one step, and it brings life to the jewelry!





Imagine that:  you have to work on a piece of filigree jewelry by thin threads and are not allowed to make one mistake, because it will destroy the whole piece of jewelry; Sounds like a mission impossible, right? Miss Stone tried once recently and spent a full day making a small and simple piece, and achieved an embarrassing semi-made result as below:





The filigree inlay art has been an important part of Chinese jewelry history for the past two thousand years. It has been a pity that this art is fading away a bit. Luckily, in some parts of China such as Beijing, Chengdu and Guizhou province, we can still find many artisans who are still able to practice this skill and create beautiful art pieces. We truly hope more people will learn, understand and fall in love with it, just like us.

Check out your filigree inlaying jewelry by clicking here. [link removed by Lu]

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Letting this through because although it is spam, it is spam with pretty pictures of beautiful things.

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@Miss Stone Soooo beautiful! So much detailed work! Thanks for posting so much information and the photos,  traditional Chinese crafts are truly amazing. 


@Lu  I'm very grateful for this Forum's smart mods :)! Though I think the work involved in producing these pieces and the beauty of the products deserve having at least the name of the place that makes them.

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Stunning! Thanks for the careful illustrations and description of the process. 


I would be interested in seeing a similar feature on Cloisonné.




Not that anyone asked, but I for one find the forum dull when it gets too heavy with the usual practical dross: How can I get a scholarship to study in China? Can I pass the physical exam? Where can I find a better teaching job? Should I add all these new vocabulary cards to my Anki deck? How does a beginner learn to pronounce these difficult words? And so on. 


I welcome more breadth of subject matter. 

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Miss Stone

@Luxi  Thanks very much! I am really impressed by the traditional Chinese arts, but sadly find not many people are paying enough attention to it. That is what I am trying to do, to promote the Chinese arts to people. Very happy you like it! 


@abcdefg Thankssssss. will share more in the future. There is one about Beijing silver enamel already, will share it later. You could also check on my website blogs for more articles. More will come! 

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@Miss Stone -- Are these skills being passed down by the masters to young apprentices so they won't die out? 




The filigree inlaying was recognized as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of China in 2008.


You mentioned that this filigree technique was officially declared part of China's intangible cultural heritage. Does any sort of training support or other encouragement come with that? Or is it just a meaningless label? 

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Miss Stone

@abcdefg I won't say it is meaningless. 


Many culture traditions are now in the list of culture heritage list. It helps : a. to increase the fame of such tradition b. good for tourism c. to encourage more people to learn such skills d. national/ regional subsidiaries for supporting these heritages(not too much tough)

However, these are not enough. In general, except for some heritages that are very commercial now (not sure it is very good😪 ), not easy to make money from these heritages. Thus, young generations are more keen to work in urban areas to earn fast money.  


It has improved a lotttttt, but we still need to work on it. And see how we can find a balance between commercial and real tradition. Another article I just shared is talking about the situation in Guizhou. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58095-guizhou-miao-silver-art-–-a-dying-culture-heritage-of-china/?tab=comments#comment-450817

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"I would be interested in seeing a similar feature on cloisonné"


In the PRC era, most cloisonné came from the big factory in S Beijing. I believe you can still tour it. At least at one time you could buy a boxed set of models there showing a vase in various stages of production.




Just found an example, described as a "cased set comprising 8 identical vase forms illustrating from beginning to finished product the manner in which cloisonné vases are produced."





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As someone who makes silver and gold jewelry myself, I'm always interested to see other people's creations, even if I don't really approve of using a Chinese language forum as a marketing platform.


To give a little advice that may help you in your business venture, if you're aiming your wares at Western consumers, particularly those in the UK, you really need to give a guarantee of purity for your silver; without a valid recognised hallmark no individual piece of silverware above 7.78g in weight can legally be sold or offered for sale in the UK if the seller is claiming it is "silver"; "white metal" is the legally compliant term to use.


Also, some important silversmithing terminology has been mistranslated in your text above: under "inlaying" your image shows what appears to be stonesetting (of a turquoise) taking place, not inlaying, which is a radically different process, and "jointing" should read "soldering". 


Finally, your quoted caliper thickness of 0.02-0.05mm for the filigree threads looks to be one decimal place too small; the smallest diameter wire any draw plate (not "wire drawing board") can typically produce is 0.2mm. 0.02mm is thinner than most human hair, and it would be impossible to hard solder something this thin without it simply disappearing from sight permanently once the torch is applied to it. 0.2mm wire, on the other hand, is perfectly solderable - with care.

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19 hours ago, Zbigniew said:

even if I don't really approve of using a Chinese language forum

Luckily this is a Chinese language and culture forum then 😉

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