All About Enameling

cloisonne enamel

Tuesday, April 19th was a beautiful spring day.  Whatever would possess me to trade the magnificent awakening of the bucolic Hudson Valley to trudge by train into a major city filled with lots of people and noise?  And on my day off!?!!

This is why:  I am a bonafide jewelry nerd.

The reason for my trip was to attend a lecture hosted by The American Society of Jewelry Historians titled, "Twenty Centuries of Enamel in 60 Minutes", presented by William Harper, one of the world's most acclaimed enamel artists.  (Recipient of five National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and many other awards, author, professor, etc.,.)   Enameling is a process where glass is fused to metal at temperatures between 1300 - 1500 degrees F.

Mr. Harper's presentation was peppered with colorful photos of enamel work from different periods of history.  "Colorful" is the imperative word here.  My understanding is enameling was developed as a way to bring color to jewelry when stones were in short supply. 

Enameling techniques:

Cloisonne - tiny gold and silver wire are affixed to a piece.  Grains of enamel are placed in the different areas.  Think of coloring and "staying in the lines".

The Russians developed a technique for cloisonne using twisted wire.

Plique a Jour - Gold and silver become the outline for a design, and the enamel is suspended between the wires (no backing).  Think stained glass windows and Lalique.


Champleve - A depression is created in the metal which is then filled with enamel. It is built up until it reaches the same height as the rest of the piece. 


Basse Taille - A pattern is created in the metal.  A very translucent enamel is laid over the pattern, which is still visible through the enameling.

Guilloche is similar to Basse Taille.  It involves engravings on the metal, but machine turnings are used to create the pattern on the metal.
Below please find a very interesting contemporary piece by the lecturer, William Harper:

Of note: The first enamel was opaque rather than translucent because it was made from crushed Roman glass mosaics. 
Enameling doesn't work well on all metals.  It works best on pure copper, silver, or gold.

Enameling techniques were used on the famed Faberge eggs.

It is common now to use "cold enamel", where an epoxy resin is painted on the metal.  It doesn't require a kiln or torch to be fired.  Many contempary commercial pieces are using this process.  It is also the preferred means of repair for all enamel.

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