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Jewelry designer lights up London with filigree inlay pieces

By XING YI in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-15 06:33
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A set of filigree inlay jewelry by Zou Xuewen, called Fang Fei Ji, which draws inspiration from the traditional Chinese motif of flower and butterfly. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Imagine transforming gold and silver into threads as delicate as a strand of hair, meticulously knitting them into intricate lace that represents a blooming flower, with precious gems carefully inset onto the delicate petals — this is the art of filigree inlay, a traditional Chinese court jewelry technique also known as "fine gold art".

Zou Xuewen, a young jewelry designer and inheritor of the filigree inlay technique, a designated intangible cultural heritage in China, has been introducing this ancient craft to the United Kingdom through workshops, lectures, and exhibitions.

"Many of today's Western jewelry-making techniques have royal court origins and are employed by renowned brands such as Van Cleef& Arpels and Buccellati," remarked Zou, who established her brand, Zoey Filigree, in 2021. "I aspire to showcase Chinese jewelry techniques to the world through my creations."

In January, Zou unveiled a new collection featuring jewelry pieces that combine Chinese calligraphy characters meaning "today" and "faraway" with floral designs.

"It is an exploration of the balance between the practical and the ideal," she explained, expressing her intention to incorporate more Chinese calligraphic characters into filigree jewelry.

Crafting a piece of jewelry with filigree inlay is a time-consuming process, taking months to complete. It involves a series of intricate steps such as nipping, plaiting, jointing, piling, filling, and knitting delicate gold or silver threads.

The history of filigree inlay dates back to China's Warring States Period (475-221 BC). With advancements in techniques for creating thin gold and silver threads, the art matured during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, reaching its zenith during the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty.

Zou's fascination with traditional Chinese filigree inlay jewelry began during a master's program in jewelry design in London that she began in 2018. Amid a curriculum focused on modern jewelry design, Zou found herself drawn to traditional techniques, discovering filigree inlay through an online video featuring Zhao Yunliang, an esteemed master of the technique in Beijing.

"When I got into the college, I wasn't so sure what I liked so I studied different jewelry-making techniques on my own until I came across the filigree inlay in the online video," she recalled.

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