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Time and time again, we see vintage designs cycle back into fashion. So it is with milgrain, which is back in vogue. With the celebration of vintage jewelry designs, milgrain is having a moment.
Milgrain might seem like a very small detail, but it makes a very big difference to the overall appearance of any jewelry. It instantly adds a vintage charm and sophistication to an engagement ring, yet complements any modern design.
Not sure what milgrain is or if it is the right style for you?
Keep reading as we outline everything you need to know to decide if you should buy a milgrain engagement ring.
What Exactly is Milgrain?
The name ‘milgrain’ (a.k.a. mille-grain, millgrain) gives an indication as to what it is. Milgrain translates to a thousand grains in French. This refers to the appearance of this feature, where tiny metal beads are placed in a close-fitting row to act as a border for jewelry designs.
A beautiful engagement ring featuring milgrain detailing. See it here.
These little ‘grains’ can be made of any type of metal, but are typically crafted out of precious metals. Milgrain was commonly used to decorate and enhance antique and vintage jewelry.
What’s the History of Milgrain?
Milgrain detailing has been a feature of jewelry for centuries, making appearances in styles around the globe. It was especially popular in Asia, which is credited for introducing this feature into jewelry. It was widely used in South East Asia, India and China.
It can be said that the modern popularity of milgrain has its roots in the Edwardian era, which heavily utilized filigree and milgrain in its designs. Later on, the Art Deco era brought back this feature along with its geometric and angular designs.
What Size is Milgrain?
Milgrain detailing can come in a number of different sizes, from near invisible little spheres to sizeable grains. Some milgrain beads can be large enough to stand out as a feature in itself, while others are so tiny they may be invisible to the eye but you’ll feel them when you touch the edges of the ring. The size depends on the overall design of the ring. In some cases, large and small milgrain detail can work together to create appealing designs.
While most milgrain engagement rings generally have just one row along the edges of the ring, some modern designs have whole surfaces covered in neat rows of milgrain, as demonstrated in the ring design below.
A unique ring design with numerous rows of milgrain. See this ring here.
This adds texture and complexity to the ring design, giving it an intriguing appearance and making the milgrain more than just an embellishment. Here it takes prominence and is the central focus of the design.
How is Milgrain Made?
Milgrain can be created in three different ways.
- One way is to first craft the tiny metal beads and then have them soldered onto the ring design. This is a painstaking and time-consuming method as each bead is individually placed into its position on the design. All antique jewelry featuring milgrain was crafted using either this or the next method.
- Another way is to use a special tool that works like a mold to create the beaded pattern along the surface. This is called a milgraining or knurling tool and is used together with a milgrain wheel. You can watch the milgrain tool in action here.
- The final method, and most commonly used today, is by using a computer to design and then 3-D print the milgrain pattern which is then used as a mold for the jewelry design. This is the easiest and most advanced method of the three.
Why Choose Milgrain?
There are many reasons to add milgrain to your engagement ring design.
For one thing, milgrain adds texture to your ring, elevating a simple design into a complex, intriguing one. You may not even be consciously aware of the milgrain detailing, but even so it will add that extra touch to your ring.
Milgrain adds that vintage look to even modern rings, creating a beautiful and harmonious interconnection between modern and older eras in jewelry designs.
Milgrain can act like a frame for gemstones or fancy metalwork in your ring design, promoting the beauty of these aspects and guiding your eye towards them. This is perfect for engagement rings where important aspects of the design can be subtly highlighted.
Note how the milgrain border highlights the diamond accents in this ring.
Here is an engagement ring featuring polished, shiny edges without milgrain. Would you have preferred if its borders were milgrain embellished?
For some, milgrain gives a touch of artisanship, appearing unique like a hand-crafted piece, even if it is machine made. This explains one reason why many gravitate towards milgrain detailing.
The Trouble with Milgrain
Milgrain detailing in engagement rings needs to be maintained in order to keep the piece looking picture perfect.
The problem is that over time and with frequent exposure, milgrain can slowly wear off, losing its definition. To rectify this, the ring will need to be taken to a professional to have the milgrain restored. On the plus side, once every 10 years or so should be sufficient for this. Restoring milgrain in jewelry is also relatively inexpensive.
Milgrain engagement rings, like this one, can be difficult to clean.
Another issue to contend with is that dirt and grime can get lodged tightly among the milgrain beads, and can reduce the sparkle of the metal. It is necessary to clean the ring setting carefully to remove these contaminants and restore the metal to its proper shine. Mild soap and warm water together with a soft cloth or brush will be sufficient to remove dirt build-up on your milgrain ring setting.
Where to Buy Milgrain Engagement Rings
Because vintage-inspired designs are highly sought after, most retailers have a vintage engagement ring collection. Most of these feature milgrain detailing. If you’re shopping online, we recommend James Allen for their high quality workmanship, beautiful designs, excellent customer service and after-sales policies.