2017.05.29 - Experiments
“Milgrain” — A Jewelry Design Technique Handed Down Through The Generations In Europe

The name of this decorative technique means "one thousand grains" in Latin.
At first glance, it looks like an engraving, but it is actually rows of tiny metal beads laid out beautifully on the lines and edges of rings and other jewelry.

18k Gold-Platinum Diamond Necklace. 19th century.
Platinum-18k Gold Emerald Diamond Brooch. 19th century.
The History And Background Of Milgrain's Origin

Historically, jewelry in Europe consisted of custom-made craft works for the privileged classes, such as royalty, the nobility, and the clergy. With the industrial revolution of the 18th century, jewelry came into the reach of the moneyed classes, and by the end of the 19th century, it had become a ready-made product, sold over the counter.

Simultaneously, platinum arrived on the scene as a new precious metal. The newly diverse range of materials and previously unknown sales method allowed jewelry to permeate right through to the common people.

One of the most noteworthy techniques in platinum jewelry in this period was the milgrain that we are introducing here. Its purpose at the time was to soften platinum's characteristic bright white glare.

One characteristic of jewelry from the late 19th to the early 20th century is that we do not see many examples of milgrain made using materials other than platinum.

Another effect of applying milgrain is to make the stones appear larger than they actually are. Together with the development of platinum as a material, it is said that milgrain became established as a result of competition in ornate decoration and precise craftsmanship.

An Advanced Skill Restricted To Elite Craftsmen

When milgrain first originated, it was said that it was done by pressing down a roller with a series of indentations on the edge of a jewelry piece, but eventually, it became a manual process that required a higher degree of precision. At kataoka, every single grain is worked by hand. That work is genuinely delicate.

While peering through a loupe, the craftsman uses a tool called a beading tool to engrave each point as though pressing it in carefully. Occasionally changing where the ring is held, they work their way around it. Each bead has a diameter of about 0.2 mm, and as you might expect from this microscopic scale, even when looking closely, it's likely that you won't be able to see the work being performed. The beading tools are numbered from 0 to 22, and each is used separately according to its size.

The execution of milgrain work is judged by whether or not beads of a uniform size, roundness, and depth are lined up at regular intervals. Just a slight change of pressure on the tool can lead to a significant difference in the finished result. Milgrain is a genuine craftsman's skill, and the only way to acquire this technique is by building up sensation in the fingertips through repeated practice on copper sheets. If the design is a complicated one, it can also take several hours, however, mechanization is moving forward even in the world of jewelry, making it a difficult time for these techniques to be passed down. In due course, the number of artisans who possess these advanced techniques will be limited.

Things To Pass Down, Things That Endure

In a world flooded with commodities, a craftsmanship that won't be consumed. One of kataoka's answers to this is the expression of milgrain, which requires delicate, precise technique.

For kataoka, delicate and fine jewelry with time and effort poured into every step of its creation gives off a dignified beauty and formidable presence, its character deepening with the passing of years.

Although milgrain is a technique from the West, it is infused at kataoka with a Japanese subtlety and an attitude for traditional craftsmanship that speaks of practiced skill and enthusiasm.

kataoka prides itself on always creating jewelry that will grow to become antique — jewelry that forms a link to the future.