Achieving levels of beauty and decorative splendour which are outside the domain of even the most beautiful gemstones, fine enamelling is a highly desirable and inimitable art in its own right. Lost in the mists of time the exact origins of enamel cannot be accurately documented. We do know that enamelled jewellery has been found in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece with items dating back as far 13th Century BC.
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 that creates an affect that is truly stunning.
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 is 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.
Cloisonné enamelling is a technique that involves creating individual cells of enamel by soldering strips of wire onto a metallic surface. These were then filled with a different coloured enamel to create the desired coloured glass. This style became popular once again in the 19th Century following a renewed interest in the Renaissance and what became known as Japonisme. This Egyptian revival brooch is a splendid example of the crisp and magnificent effect of cloisonné.
Perhaps the greatest and most famous designer who used enamel was the Russian master Fabergé. His pioneering creation of the guilloché enamelled egg has become synonymous with perfection. He combined the art of enamelling and modern engineering. Metal was engraved by an engine powered turning table and then a layer of enamel was fused over it. This technique soon became a favourite with the top houses. Both this unusual turban brooch from the estate of the Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore and the clasp of this pearl necklace illustrate what can be achieved with the guilloché method of enamelling.
The house of Giuliano was one of the most prolific users of enamel in their iconic jewellery designs. First under the leadership of Carlo Giuliano, who had trained under the Italian master Castellani and then when his sons Carlo and Arthur took over the business, Giuliano enamelling soon became famous in London. This bracelet is a fine example of the typical Giuliano style of black and white painted enamelling jewellery. The intricate decorative work enhances and compliments the gemstones in the piece. Much like Fabergé, Giuliano pieces are very identifiable for their understated yet intricate use of enamel and gemstones.