Enamelling – a brief history

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tree pendantEnamelling - A brief history

The beautiful and colorful art of Enamelling is actually an ancient technique dating as far back as the 2nd century BCE and involves decorating metal objects with thin layers of powdered or vitreous glaze to add colour.  Bronze was a metal that featured frequently in the early forms of enamelling, from jewellery to vessels to swords, utensils and so much more -  and you can see the many such relics in museums around the world today including the Natural History Museum here in London.  Nowadays more so Copper, Silver and Gold are popular metals. The brilliant, vibrant colours are achieved through variations in oxides such as lead (still used today in leaded enamels) that lend colour to a clear base enamel known as Flux - what is not to love!

There are few different ways that enamel can be applied...

Cloisonné

In cloisonné , thin fine silver or pure gold 'strips' a few millimeters high are curved and formed into a design or pattern to create "cells' for the enamel powders to sit in. These are then fused into a base of clear flux by fusing first the base flux layer, onto the metal, then laying the wires on top of the fused layer, re-firing and re-melting the enamel to capture the wires. The wire can also be soldered directly onto the metal.

Coloured enamel powders are then laid down into the cells layer by layer,  each one is fired in between, cooled, then the next layer applied, building up until the layers reach flush with the tops of the wires. They are then 'sanded' down and polished, ready to be set into a jewel.

Champlevé

In champlevé instead of formed wired creating the cells for the enamel, cells are gouged out of the metal creating channels or depressions that are then filled with powdered enamel. In the case of champleve, the metal needs to be thicker than with Cloisonné to allow for removing metal.

Basse-Taille

Basse-Taille (low cut in French) is the technique of 'chasing' or engraving or in some way texturing the metal that is then enamelled with transparent or translucent enamels, creating amazing depth and variations in colours with the reflecting light over the textured undulations of the design.

Plique-à-jour

This technique is designed to lend a stained glass affect, commonly 'cells' are either cut out of metal in a pattern, or a frame has strips of wire soldered to it to create a network of cells which are then filled with enamel and fired, the technique has not backing metal so the light shines directly through the glass like looking through a stained glass church window!

Here at The Secret Jeweller we use a combination of Champlevé, Basse-Taille and Cloisonné, we love the depth and movement that comes from creating textures using Basse-Taille and think it really brings out art to life!

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