Knowledge Centre > Jewellery History > History

Fine Enamel Throughout the Ages

From the ancient world through to the 20th century

Byzantine garnet and enamel ring hatton garden
Byzantine garnet and enamel ring, circa 6th-9th century.
Ref: 27523

Fine enamel has been adding a bold statement of colour to precious metals 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 widespread use of this decorative art form the precise origins cannot be pinpointed to an exact time period or locality. We can however, see how fine enamelling has evolved over the centuries from the ancient world through to the 20th century.

There are numerous enamelling techniques that have been developed, each producing a different and individual result. Even though the techniques may be different they all involve the fusing of coloured glass to metal that leaves a layer of smooth, polished colour. In the Byzantine Empire jewels bearing religious motifs were extremely popular as Christianity was embraced. Fine enamel was also used on gold to create spectacular floral motifs as seen on item 18712.

With the limited availability of gemstones in the 16th century, fine enamelling was used as a colourful alternative with splendid results. Often highlighting intricate carvings and symbols, fine enamel gave life and significance to any chosen design. Symbols such as the fede motif depicting the shaking of hands, were used to symbolise betrothal or marriage. Traces of coloured enamel remain on item 19986 which depicts a heart firmly clasped by a hand (similar to the fede motif in symbolism). This extremely rare relic was unearthed in Kent and is the only recorded example of a ring, of this age, bearing this unique motif.

An extremely fine example of cloisonné enamelling is featured in our rare 17th century posy ring engraved to the interior with the phrase ‘I LYVE IN HOPE’. 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. The exterior of our posy ring includes an intricate lattice pattern which has the remnants of black and white cloisonné enamel. 

Other symbolic jewels of the 17th and 18th centuries featured intricately enamelled phrases and pictures. Most notable enamelled pieces include memorial jewellery which feature phrases such as ‘BEHOLD THE ENDE’ and portray very detailed skulls and skeletal motifs. This tradition continued well into the 19th century and gained popularity when Queen Victoria lost her beloved Albert in 1861 and donned many memorial pieces dedicated to her late husband.

As we are fast approaching the Easter celebration it is important to mention one of the greatest and most famous jewellery designers who used enamel. The Russian master Peter Carl Fabergé, who pioneered the creation of guilloché enamelling a technique where vibrant enamel colours are decorated with engraved repeating patterns. To achieve this unique pattern, metal was engraved by an engine powered turning table and then a layer of enamel was fused over it. In 1885 the Russian Tsar Alexander III commissioned the creation of an Easter egg for his wife Empress Maria Fedorovna by Fabergé. The gift was a success and became an annual tradition with guilloché enamelling seen in many of the unique designs. This technique was used throughout the 20th century and can be seen in the exquisite turquoise enamel and pearl heart pendant by English maker Child & Child.

This Easter season add colour to your ensemble with a one-of-a-kind piece from our collection of enamelled jewels at Berganza. Whether you are captivated by history, revel in craftsmanship or delight in symbolism we have a piece suitable for any enthusiast’s collection.

Post Medieval Tudor gold 'Beholde the ende` skull ring. Hatton Garden
Tudor enameled 'BEHOLD THE ENDE' skull ring, English, circa 17th century AD.
Ref: 26407
Maison Vever Paris enamel and gold brooch hatton garden
Maison Vever Paris enamel and gold brooch, French, circa 1900.
Ref: 25412
Berganza on Facebook Berganza on Instagram

Email: | Opening hours: Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-5pm | All Stripe currencies supported

Connect with us

Berganza on Facebook Berganza on Instagram Berganza on Pinterest Berganza on youtube Berganza on linkedin

Signs up for regular emails on our new acquisitions, news and features:
Updated 18/05/2024 at 3:51PM

© Berganza Ltd 2024