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Silver Filigree (Telkari)

Silver filigree work has its origins in Mesopotamia and Egypt from where it spread into Turkey and other parts of Asia. From Turkey it was exported with Ottoman rule into Yugoslavia and Greece. It is also known as çift işi (tweezer work) and vav işi from the Arabic letter vav which is somewhat similar to "g" and is a frequently used motif.

All the work involved in the creation of a filigree piece is carried out by the same craftsman. This involves the design of the object as well as the production of the silver wire from which the frame, and infill motifs, are made. Some of the beautiful objects produced are flat ware – plates, trays, belts, bracelets, mirror frames – but others are hollow ware, filigree coffee cup holders were once particularly popular when the cups themselves were made without handles. Whatever the desired end result the design is first drawn flat on paper but if the object is to be hollow the paper is manipulated into shape before the design is completed.

The production of the silver wire involves risk, considerable strength and special equipment. The silver is melted in a crucible then poured into a mould to make thin rods which are drawn through steel plates with tapering holes until wire 1 mm in diameter is produced. During this process the metal is constantly reheated and coated with beeswax. In the early stages the pulling is done by hand, using pliers but when this becomes impossible the wire is tied to the craftsmans water buffalo hide belt and he uses his own weight to finish the job.

The piece is completed on a flat walnut slab, which has been flamed to burn off the oil and compressed for several days. Every filigree object has a frame (muntaç) to which the different motifs are attached. The muntaç is made first with a double thickness of wire then fine wire is shaped to make the motifs which fit into the openings. The motifs are not soldered to the frame but welded with a silver and borax mixture. After the motifs are in place the final, smallest, decorations (silver balls etc) are welded on. İn the case of hollow ware, the frames and motifs are prepared in sections on the flat surface and then welded together supported by hardwood or metal moulds.

These craftsmen are still working in Turkey, often in villages and small towns, from where their work is collected for sale in the cities and tourist resorts.

Telkari / Filigree Work
By M. Zeki Kuşoğlu