Filigree & Inlay originated in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) in ancient China, and achieved superb artistic level in the Ming Dynasty. Pure gold or silver is drawn into filaments that are as thin as hairs. Filaments are then knotted, filled, assembled, welded, weaved and heaped into patterns. Inlaying is to use various different techniques to make the gold or silver sheet into shapes, and then set with pearls or precious stones. The whole process is very complicated going through dozens of steps, and with the use of precious materials, in history Filigree & Inlaying craftsmanship has always been used only for the production of Royal supplies.
Dozens of Manual Processes
Each craft technique of Filigree & Inlay can be subdivided into ever-changing skills. The basis is filigree. Before the filaments are drawn, silver or gold is to be dissolved in high temperature and made into bars. Then the bar is repeatedly hammered until it becomes a suitable square shape, formal drawing could only be started. Hand-drawing is a tradition that has continued for centuries. The drawing board is a special tool, on which forty to fifty eyelets in different diameters are arranged, and the finest is smaller than hair. In the process of attenuating coarse filaments, they must pass through each eyelet in descending order and cannot be skipped. Sometimes it takes dozens of draws to get the desired filament. Molding is the next step after drawing; the filaments are then made into patterns on the mold by techniques such as coiling, filling, heaping, braiding, etc. After welding and careful polishing, precious stones or pearls are inlayed into the metal work.
In June 2008, Filigree & Inlay was listed in the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List.