Milgrain (also spelled millgrain) literally means a thousand grains. The word milgrain is used to describe a jewelry decoration. Milgrain decoration are strings of tiny bead shapes coined right at the edges of a jewel. Milgrain can usually be found surrounding set stones or on the edges of a ring or other piece of jewelry. This jewelry decoration is commonly present in antique style jewelry.
There are several stylistic characteristics which connote antique or vintage style in jewelry, such as engraving, scroll work, filigree decoration, and milgrain detail. We immediately identify these details in jewelry as conveying an antique look.
It is believed that the use of milgrain decoration begun to appear in jewelry originating from Southeast Asia. Jewelry making in India and China dates back to 5000 BC. A wonderful example of the early use of milgrain work in jewelry is the Royal earrings from Andhra Pradesh, 1st Century BC. The mentioned pair of Royal earrings is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Since then, the use of milgrain decoration in jewelry has spread around the world. We have countless examples of milgrain decorated jewelry throughout time and from many different cultures and regions of the world. Milgrain decoration has been a part of the history of jewelry making and is sure to continue to be a constant presence in jewelry making into the far future.
Milgrain decoration is created with a special engraver's knurling tool. First, the jeweler uses a graining tool to lower the center of the jewel leaving thin raised rims. Then, he uses this milgrain tool to shape the raised edges into tiny rounded bumps.
On modern days, the milgrain decoration is done through the use of computers. Jewels are now designed with the aid of 3D modeling computer software. Right from the beginning, the milgrain decoration can be applied to the 3D model. Special 3D printers are used to create a three dimensional wax model which is a perfect rendering of what is displayed on the computer screen. With the wax model, a jewel can be cast in metal with the milgrain decoration already present.
Milgrain is sometimes referred to as a type of stone setting style. The milgrain setting is usually done on a piece to match the style of a jewel that already has milgrain decoration. An experienced jeweler will set stones using a beading tool, rather than prongs. This will leave little raised nodes of gold which can then be turned into tiny decorative rounded bumps by using an appropriate setting tool.
In addition to being part of an antique-style vocabulary, milgrain edges leave the impression of excellent craftsmanship, a quality which is highly sought-after. When selecting an engagement ring or a wedding band, the most desired fashion today is the antique, which connotes a kind of stability or permanence, which, after all, is exactly what an engagement ― a long term commitment that will lead to a marriage ― is suppose to convey!