Making Filigree Jewelry in Kosovo

Making Filigree Jewelry in Kosovo

Filigree jewelry is a time honored metalsmithing technique popular in the country of Kosovo where it holds special importance in traditional wedding ceremonies. Kosovo’s pride in filigree adornment matched my curiosity for learning the technique, and this curiosity led me to apply for (and receive) a Fulbright grant to Kosovo.

Making the jewelry is a delicate process of fitting small, ornamental wire shapes into a framed space. All Kosovar filigree adornments are constructed of four shapes that have unique Albanian names: lacra (no translation), chorre (blind eye), zog (bird), and lule (flower). The shapes are made from two pieces of wire that have been twisted together and flattened into a filament which is no thicker than a sheet of paper. A filigree artisan will spend hours curling this fine wire into shapes and fitting them into place. The final step is to cover the entire piece in a blanket of solder dust and fire each individual element into one piece. The resulting adornment has a deceivingly strong, lace-like effect with a quality of openwork that is characteristic of filigree.

My four years of metalsmith training at Syracuse University honed my skills, but in no way did it prepare me for my first day as a filigree apprentice at the reputable Filigran Company, a master’s studio established in 1947 by the former Yugoslav state. Faik, the manager, instructed me to make 200 lacra, one of the four basic shapes. I thought I would be using basic jewelry tools — instead Faik handed me a single set of tweezers. To my surprise, the best tool I had for making filigree was my thumb and pointer finger. Each piece is quite literally made by hand.

With excellent instruction from the 10 artisans at Filigran Company, I learned to make all four shapes and delicately “inlay” them into the framework of bracelets, rings, and pendants. Working with the tweezers, I fit shapes so precisely that no wiggle-room was spared. While I busied myself with reproducing 50 bracelet links, the artisans fabricated heavy silver wedding belts, orthodox candleholders, and large filigree wall hangings. I was in awe at their level of mastery. The head designer, Bashkim, said in five years I too could make these works.

Repetition and exacting symmetry characterized my nine-month apprenticeship. I could escape chaotic and bustling Kosovo for the silence and order of the filigree studio, where I reached a meditative state of wire curling — only paying attention to the uniformity of each shape as I rolled the fragile wire through my fingers. This way of working has prompted me to be more conscious of formal elements, the beauty of pure shape, and the interaction of positive and negative spaces.

I left Kosovo wearing one bright silver bracelet of my own design. The artisans considered it my best piece, and I think it may just be the beginning of a new line of work.

Laura Marsolek was a Fulbright grantee in Prizren, Kosovo, from September 2013 to June 2014. She is a jeweler and art historian, currently completing her master’s degree in Renaissance art history at Syracuse University in Florence, Italy.