Enamel Jewellery

Enamel Jewellery


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Enamel Jewellery

An ancient art form that has been used to decorate everything from classical Byzantine religious objects to some very famous Imperial eggs, The art of enamelling is very ancient and has been practised for centuries, dating back to 1400 BCE in Mycenae, Ancient Greece. The craftsmanship of enamelling, or working with glass, is a work of pure art and the techniques involved can take many years to master. Part art, part science, there are lots of factors that can lead to success or failure, including the thickness of the glass powder, the firing temperature (temperatures in the kiln can reach 750 to 850 degrees centigrade or more, with the exact temperature dependent on the colour), and the length of time in the kiln. Each piece is truly an intriguing piece of art. Enamel designs are popular in Tudor rings and Medieval rings, especially in designs for memorial or mourning rings.

There are several methods when it comes to jewellery enamelling. They all have French names which is likely to do with the city of Limoges in France being the centre of enamelling for many years and therefore having such an influence on the names. The different methods of jewellery enamelling are called Cloisonné, Champlevé, Basse-taille, Plique-à-jour and Guilloché.

Cloisonne - This is a technique used in Mycenae and Greece, it includes the creation of metal cells which is filled with the powdered form of enamel. It is then melted in a furnace or a hand-held torch. 

Champlevé - Instead of using raised cells to separate enamels of different colours as in cloisonné, with champlevé the artist will dig cells or lines in the metal and place the powdered enamel into the depressions. Then the piece is fired and polished.

Basse-taille - In the basse-taille technique, the artist makes cuts of varying depths into metal. Methods to do this include carving, engraving, and stamping. These layered cuts give the enamel different shades or tones of the same hue once it is fired. Green and blue enamels are favourite choices, as they show a palette of rich shades when used with basse-taille.

Plique-à-jour - Plique-à-jour is a technique used to make enamel resemble stained glass. This is achieved by adding the enamel powder into a cell backed by a sheet of copper foil or a similar metal. The enamel is fired, and then the sheet is removed with a light tap or acid. The enamel that remains is shimmering and translucent.

Guilloché - With the guilloché technique, a piece of metal is first placed on a lathe which cuts intricate patterns into the metal. This technique of cutting a pattern into the metals is referred to as engine turning. The powdered enamel is then layered over the metal, and after firing, the transparent enamel lets the design come through. Fabergé’s workshop used this technique often when creating the famed Easter eggs.

At Berganza the beautiful world of enamel can be admired among our many antique rings and vintage jewellery decorated with intriguing designs and colours.

FAQs


Never use harsh chemicals or tools that might scratch or ruin the surface. You can gently immerse the piece in lukewarm water and brush the piece with a very soft brush. Sometimes it’s not even necessary to do so. A soft cloth can do the trick and remove grease and dirt quite easily. Berganza also offer an annual free cleaning and assessment for jewellery pieces procured from our Hatton Garden jewellers, so your pieces will receive expert care.

You should always handle your enamel jewellery carefully when storing it or transferring it between your person and your jewellery box. It is fragile by nature, so the enamel may crack, chip, or break if it is impacted by a hard surface or dropped on the floor. It can also become out of shape through exposure to heat, so it should be removed and stored safely.

Unfortunately not all items can be repaired to their original state, and there are many factors which decide whether a piece can be restored to its natural look. You can in some instances repair the piece. A skilled and very experienced enameller might be able to do such a beautiful job that you can’t see the difference between the original enamel and the new layer. In most cases all the enamel will have to be removed and then repaired with a completely new layer, changing the originality of the piece. That is why you’ll see many antique pieces with flaws to the enamel and that is simply to keep it true to when it first was made.

Peter Carl Fabergé is considered a pioneer of the art form, lavishing large amounts of time to creating dazzling effects in enamel. By layering as many as six coats of enamel and firing them at decreasing temperatures, he was able to achieve a beautiful iridescent “oyster” finish that resembled the inside of an oyster shell and quickly became his trademark.

There are actually three - red, yellow and orange. These are very unpredictable. It is because they contain cadmium pigment which is very sensitive to temperature and firing time. Colours such as these will always be fired last when using multiple colours.



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Updated 22/05/2024 at 4:17PM

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