Elaborately detailed filigree and brilliantly colored enamels are the signatures of Mongolian jewelry making. This traditional technique has distinctive Russian and Chinese influences and follows a process that has remained unchanged for generations.
Mongolian Jewelry Making
The filigree work is typically hand-fashioned with tweezers using silver wires which are shaped into flowers, butterflies and other subjects. At approximately 1700 degrees F, the wire structure is then carefully fired in a kiln where they are fused together with silver dust. This first process provides the framework for the piece. Fine enamel powder is then blended and packed into the frame, and briefly fired in the kiln again several times at 1500 degrees F. During this second firing, the enamel fuses into a durable glasslike finish.
Finally, gemstones are set, and the piece is typically plated with 24KT gold. Stones such as Chrysocolla, Rhodocrosite, Chrysoprase, Water Sapphires and Black Star of India are favorites of Mongolian artisans. Semiprecious stones like Garnets, Lapis, Amethyst, Madeira Citrine, Onyx and Turquoise are also popular in traditional Mongolian designs.
The work is exacting and demanding, since working with any filigree frame could involve destruction of the fragile framework. The artists are all extensively trained in the basic techniques and over time are considered master craftsmen. Interestingly, because filigree and enameling are very different skills, many Mongolian jewelry items require two artists to complete. No one artist is trained in both procedures.
Many of the young people of the area are turning their backs on the old ways and going into urban areas of China to make lives for themselves. It is an endangered and dying art form and because of the sheer beauty and quality of the jewelry, several museums around the world are selling the works of art in their museum shops. They consider it a Chinese cultural treasure.
Caring for Filigree Jewelry:
Although it is sterling silver and very sturdy, it is made of hundreds of fine wires. The brilliant colors are achieved by the use of enamel powder, kiln-fired to create “glass”. Consequently, gentle care should be used with these unique pieces. Keep in a plastic bag with the air expelled to minimize oxidation. Clean with a liquid cleaner acceptable for use with pearls, lapis, turquoise or other porous stones.