The word ‘enamel’ was first seen in the 9th century, derived from the Old High German word ‘smelzan’, meaning 'to smelt'. However, fine enamel has been adding a bold statement of colour to precious metals from as early as the 13th century BC. There have been examples of fine enamel featured in pieces unearthed from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Due to widespread use of this decorative art form the precise origins cannot be pinpointed to an exact time period or locality.
In Europe, the decorative use of enamel was at its most important in the Middle Ages, beginning with the Late Romans. Versatile, decorative and visually enriching, enamel was heralded for its beauty when used alone or accompanied by diamonds or other gemstones. Indeed, with the limited availability of gemstones in the 16th century, fine enamelling was often used as a colourful alternative with exquisite results. Used to highlight intricate carvings and symbols, fine enamel gave life and significance to any chosen design.
Enamel was widely used in 19th century jewellery. In the Art Nouveau period, jewellers such as René Lalique revelled in enamelling bright, jewel-like colours to create delicate, feminine pieces inspired by nature. Famous jewellery houses such as Fabergé and Cartier, renowned for their superb quality jewels and original designs, displayed a mastery of enamelling technique that reached levels of excellence previously unimagined.
There are numerous different enamelling techniques that have been developed throughout the centuries, each producing a different and individual result. However, all the techniques involve the fusing of coloured glass to metal that leaves a layer of smooth, polished colour.
Enamelling itself is a highly skilled craft which takes a great degree of control. A combination of potassium oxide, quartz sand, iron oxide and borax are ground together into a powder. Different metal oxides can be added to create different colours. These are then made into a paste and applied in a manner similar to paint. When it has dried the piece is fired in a kiln with temperatures rising to between 700 and 900 degrees Celsius. This is one of the most vital stages of the process and it is important for the kiln to remain at an even temperature. When the piece has cooled it is then sanded and polished.
At Berganza we have a range of enamelled jewels from the ancient, antique and vintage worlds. Choose from a wide selection of rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, brooches and cufflinks. Whether you are captivated by history, revel in craftsmanship or delight in symbolism we have a piece suitable for any enthusiast’s collection. Our extensive collection is available to view in our showroom, online through our website or via a Zoom appointment.