Enameling or fusing glass in some form onto a metal substrate is something we encounter every day – it is found in sinks, stoves, cookware, building cladding, badges, and many other applications. When used on jewelry, enameling becomes a work of art and craftsmanship that transforms an object of adornment into something beautiful.
The art of enameling is an ancient one, dating back to 1400 BC, which flourished in Mycenae (1400 BC), ancient Greece (600 BC), the Byzantine Empire (8th – 12th centuries AD), and the 19th and 20th centuries. Enameled jewelry is no less popular today. As you shop for jewelry and encounter this art, you should know that there are different methods of jewelry enameling. Here’s a quick primer:
A technique used in Mycenae and Greece, cloisonné is made via the creation of metal cells and then filling those cells with enamel which is in a ground, powdered form. The piece is then placed into a kiln where the enamel is melted. The enamel can also be melted by using a hand-held torch. In the pendant pictured below, numerous cells were used to create the mountains and sky. Each cell has different-colored enamel.
Champlevé is an enameling technique in which enamel is wet-packed into a depression. There are many ways to obtain a depression—cells or lines can be dug into the metal, the metal can be etched with chemicals, or it could be engraved. The piece is then fired.
A more complex way of making depressions is the metalsmithing piece and solder method/ A design is pierced into a piece of metal to which a solid metal back is soldered.
Basse Taille is an enameling technique in which the metal surface is texturized and then transparent enamels are fired over the pattern. Texture can be gained by etching, hammering, roll printing, engraving, carving, or stamping, The texture gives the enamel different shades or tones of the same hue once it is fired. Green and blue enamels are favorite choices, as they show a palette of rich shades when used with Basse Taille.
Plique-à-jour is the only type of enameling that has no metal backing, thus making it look like a stained glass window. If creating a flat piece, and it is finished properly, Plique-à-jour is reversible. One way the effect can be achieved is 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. Using surface-tension is another method.