Text and images excerpt from the catalog “Old crafts in Serbia”
Author: Jelena Vuletić
FLOATING FLORAL ORNAMENTS
Cherish the language, my precious child, like your native land.
The word can be lost just like your city, land or soul.
And what is a nation should it lose its language, land, soul? “
(Bequest of Stefan Nemanja, Mile Medic)
The terms goldsmith’s and jeweler’s shops are today generally known, but few are familiar with the term goldsmith’s workshop. To understand the essence of the term, one would need to start from the Egyptian goldsmiths’ workshops in Luxor and Karnak, then the Roman tombstones, workshops of the Renaissance, Baroque, all the way to the contemporary, simplified goldsmiths’ workshops. The modern way of life generally does not leave one time to think beyond the visual impression left by the finished product. A beautiful item will catch one’s eye through the show-case of a jewelry shop. And it ends there – the item is bought, and one is bought by its beauty. At this point, it does not strike one that the item is made through a number of goldsmith’s operations and fine points, some of which are achievements of certain periods of time, brought down through generations, or forever lost in the past.
The Serbian goldsmithing flourished at the same time as the development of Serbian medieval mines, especially mines of silver, lead, zinc, copper and other metals. In addition to Kopaonik, Trepca, Vranje, Rudnik, the famous silver mines were Novo Brdo and Janjevo, which provided the most wanted argentum glame, silver with a considerable percentage of gold. The wealth of gold and silver mines was noted by many travel writers. In the report he wrote to a French king while passing through the Serbian lands in 1332, Frenchman Guillaume Adam wrote: “Serbia owns five gold and five silver mines, where miners constantly work. In different places, there are also mines of both gold and silver. Whoever wins this land, they will have beautiful jewelry, the most precious of this century.” Speaking about Serbia in the period from 14541455, Kritovoulos, a Greek and the author of a book about Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople and Serbia, says amongst other things: “Its greatest advantage, in which it surpasses other countries, is that it abounds in gold and silver as springs do in water. They are mined everywhere in that region, which has rich veins of both gold and silver, more abundant and better than those of India.”
One of the oldest as well as the most beautiful metal processing techniques is certainly filigree. With this technique, over the centuries, beautiful jewelry was made as well as decorative objects which are still admired today. The filigree technique is found on the objects of the Mycenaean culture, those from Troy, Rhodes and Ephesus, and in the earliest Etruscan jewelry. The peak in the development of filigree was reached by Greece from the 5th to the 3rd century BC, but this technique was also represented later, in the early Christian period, Middle Ages, throughout the Turkish period, and it would survive until today.
Filigree was also very popular in the old Serbian goldsmithing and it represented the Serbian medieval heritage that in the Turkish time became one of the most frequent techniques of the silver and gold jewelry processing. Filigree was usually crafted out of a thin silver or gold twisted wire, requiring special tools, which consisted of: a draw plate, pliers with flat massive mouth and bent handle, a tin vise which held the wire and supported the pressure while guiding the wire through the plate and the necessary solder point which attached drawings composed of wire.
The process begins with the casting of metal rods with diameter as small as possible. Rods are then reforged into a shape of square cross section so to be easily drawn. The thus-prepared wire is then placed in the vise with the notched top and a semi-circular profile. Then it is drawn through a prepared metal rectangular plate with holes of specific dimensions as required; the process is repeated several times until the desired thickness is achieved. Machine-made wires were introduced to the filigree craft in the late 19th century. Depending on the use, it was either single or twisted and composed of two or more wires.
Two variants could be distinguished – true and pseudo-filigree, or false filigree. The true filigree implies the free composing of wires into various motifs (circles, little flowers, geometric patterns) within the contours of an object, which is the so-called airy or floating filigree. Patterns for production of motifs generally did not exist. Each master combined patterns using his imagination, and good filigree masters were well known and well paid for their work. The other variant of the true filigree involves the plate base onto which the ornament made of wires is soldered.
The pseudo-filigree or false filigree was made in such a way that the object was first molten and then finalized with techniques such as embossing, punching, scraping, and engraving. Unlike the true filigree, objects made with the technique of false filigree are considerably less delicate.
To make an object or jewelry with the filigree technique, its basic contours must be shaped first because of its very sensitive and delicate structure. Such base is formed of a stouter wire or tape on a charred tablet that gives firmness to an object. Once the base is formed, the so-called “filling” is carried out, i.e. the filling of gaps with small spirals of the thinnest wires.
After joining (soldering) of all the details, additional decoration is performed, without which the filigree is unthinkable. First, the granules were added, small silver beads, and then smaller and larger rhomboid plates, strips, or hemispheres. Sometimes the filigree items were encrusted with decorative stones.
Most frequently, filigree is combined with the granulation. This technique implied the melting of gold, silver and copper in the pot for casting. The liquid metal was poured from the pot into a vessel filled with water, with constant stirring, thus creating minute globules, the granules. The granules were then soldered onto the surface or the filigree wire.
Nowadays, these techniques, and especially masters who execute such work successfully, are very rare. And perhaps people are different. It is more fascinating today how a lump of gold is turned into a ring by means of laser based on a digital photography, or when a 3D scanner scans an object and then prints its exact image on a 3D printer. Time passes, technology is progressing, but certainly nothing can replace the imagination, love and spirit that master goldsmiths and filigree craftsmen used to bring to their products.