Fashionistas already know that the runways showcasing this season’s fashion trends featured lots of overlays, insets and trims in laces, eyelets and open-work knits. Style is cyclical, and contemporary fashions reference historical periods. I think today’s designers have undoubtedly been inspired by the Edwardian era, or Belle Époque (c. 1900 – 1920). In these decades, women wore all-white and pale pastel garments made of lightweight fabrics and trimmed in lace. Their jewelry had the same delicate, lacy look, created from filigree and pierced metal often embellished with genuine or faux gemstones and/or enamelling. This type of jewelry remained popular into the 1930s. You can see a variety of pieces in this cut-out style on the TruFaux Jewels website – just enter the word filigree in the search box. Take a look at my Pinterest Board to see vintage costume jewelry, vintage and contemporary clothing, and more with this cut-out theme.
From Edwardian to Art Deco
As jewelry styles evolved from the white or pale palette of the garland style of the Edwardian period to the geometric forms and strong color contrasts that characterized the Art Deco era, pieces with openwork designs remained popular.
In the U.S., filigree jewelry was typically made with white metal – silver-topped gold and later platinum in fine jewelry, and sterling silver or rhodium-plated base metal for costume jewelry. Among the costume pieces particularly in vogue were bar brooches, finger rings and flexible bracelets that imitated fine jewelry. In Europe, filigree costume jewelry was brass, sterling silver, or gilt metal (base metal or sterling coated or plated with a thin layer of gold). According to Christie Romero (Warman’s Jewelry), one type of jewelry from the former Czechoslovakia in this period was typically “stamped gilt metal filigree necklaces, bracelets, brooches, buckles, clips, earrings, and rings … set with glass cabochons, sometimes embellished with enameled foliate motifs, resulting in an ornate look that was more Victorian Revival than Art Deco”.
My favorite filigree Art Deco pieces are flexible bracelets and bangles. Bracelets were probably the most important fashion accessory in the 1920s, when arms left bare by sleeveless or short-sleeve frocks required adornment. In this era, multiple bracelets were typically worn together.
A flexible bracelet is one that is comprised of interlocking links that conform to the shape or curvature of the wearer’s wrist. Some flexible bracelets (like the one in the center of the image above) were a uniform width all around, while others had a wider center plaque. Some costume bracelets were all metal, but many were set with faux gemstones.
American makers of filigree flexible bracelets include Wachenheimer Brothers (under the trademark Diamonbar), J. A. & S. W. Granbery (with their trademark G inside a diamond), R. F. Simmons Company (marked Simmons), E. I. Franklin & Company (with the mark E.I.F. & CO.) and Wells, Inc. (marked Wells). Among the European makers, Fahrner is particularly well-regarded for their filigree work. This German company, who used the trademark TF, often produced pieces with filigree in a circular or swirled pattern, like this aquamarine and gilt sterling filigree bracelet. Click through to read a complete description and see detailed photos of this piece on the TruFaux Jewels website.
Filigree bangle bracelets were made with uniform widths all around as well as with wider center plaques. Both styles were embellished with white or colored glass stones, marcasites, and/or enamel. American companies that made these bracelets include J. H. Peckham & Sons, Inc. (marked J.H.P.), R. & G. Co. Inc. (with their trademark R&G Co on a heart-shaped lock; Nu Wite refers to the piece’s finish), Plainville Stock Company (marked P.S. CO.), and J. J. White Manufacturing Company, Inc. (with their trademark W in a triangle). This aquamarine and silver filigree bangle is by J. H. Peckham. Detailed photos and a full description of the bangle are here.
For More on the Lacy Look in Fashion History
You can see some stunning examples of filigree in fine jewelry (jewelry made from precious metals and gemstones) from the Edwardian era on the Antique Jewelry University website. Also visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art website for images of and information on lace through fashion history.