What Is Enamel Jewelry?

Posted on February 02, 2017 by Mary Hood | 0 Comments

Enamel in jewelry and decorative work goes by a few names—vitreous enamel, porcelain enamel, and painted glass. The word enamel comes from the Old High German word smelzan, which means to smelt.

What Is Enamel Jewelry? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Enamel jewelry can feature several vivid hues. 

In jewelry, enamel is a decorate coating applied to metal. It begins as a powder with a texture similar to that of baby powder. It’s fused to metals using high temperatures (1,380-1,560°F). Although enamel powder comes in different colors, the initial colors of the powder do not ultimately represent the vivid colors resulting from the high-temperature fusion process.

The temperature of the fusion process as well as the metal oxides content of the enamel determine the resulting color’s intensity as well as its transparency. Generally speaking, higher temperatures yield more durable, translucent enamel while lower temps yield softer, more opaque enamel, which is more vulnerable to damage.

What Is Enamel Jewelry? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

Enamel jewelry is made using fine, colored powder.

The Origins of Enamel Jewelry

Enamel design can be traced back to the ancient Persians who called the art meenakari. The ancient Egyptians also practiced enamel work on stone objects and pottery—and less frequently on jewelry.

What Is Enamel Jewelry? | What Is Enamel Jewelry?

Chinese cloisonné wine pot, circa 18th century.

The art of enameling seemed to know no geographic bounds and spread to China, Rome, Greek, Celtic territories, and the Byzantine Empire. Each culture brought its own style to the art. The Chinese, for example, perfected the cloisonné technique. Cloisonné is also known as the "cell technique." Wires are adhered to a surface in a desired pattern; the artist then fills the spaces created by the wire with enamel. 

What Is Enamel Jewelry? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

A Fabergé egg. 

More recently, enamel jewelry gained popularity during the Art Nouveau era in art and design in Europe and the United States (1890-1910). Artists like Peter Carl Fabergé specialized in bibelots (baubles), like the elaborate enamel egg pictured above.  Other artists, like George Stubbs, used enamel to create portrait miniatures. This period was an especially ripe time for jewelry making and design in part because enameling allowed artists like René Lalique and Eugéne Feuillâtre to create intricate, nature-inspired jewelry. Enamel also offered a way to feature vibrant color in jewelry without the use of precious stones. 

Common Design Styles in Enamel Jewelry

There are several design styles in enamel jewelry (including cloisonné, mentioned above). The following are just three that you may come across.

What Is Enamel Jewelry? | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Jewelry

A stunning and delicate plique à jour creation by René Lalique.

Plique à Jour. French for “glimpse of day,” this style was popularized by French enamelists René Lalique and Eugéne Feuillâtre. In this style, vivid, fairly translucent enamel is suspended between gold or silver wires without any backing. The light shines through the enamel, creating a beautiful stained-glass effect.

What Is Enamel Jewelry | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

A contemporary example of champlené enameling. 

Champlené. French for “raised field,” in this style, the jeweler creates a depression in the metal (by cutting, hammering, or stamping the metal). They then fill the depressions with enamel, layering the the enamel until it reaches the height of the surrounding metal, creating a mostly smooth surface.

What Is Enamel Jewelry | Barbara Michelle Jacobs Blog

The baise taille technique allows enamelists to create nuanced texture in the smallest of pieces. 

Baise Taille. French for “low cut,” this style features a pattern created in the metal over which enamel is applied. The pattern shows through the glass for a unique texture.

Caring for Enamel Jewelry

To clean enamel jewelry, soak the piece in warm, soapy water for five to ten minutes. Use a soft cloth to remove noticeable bits of dirt. Rinse the piece and dry it with a lint-free cloth.

If your enamel jewelry is damaged, please take it to a jewelry or artist who specializing in enamel. Repairing antique enamel is an especially delicate process since using high temperatures to fuse new enamel may negatively affect the older enamel on the piece. 

Are you a lover of enamel jewelry? What's your favorite style? 

You may also be interested in: 

What Are the Different Kinds of Pearls?

Trend Watch: Black Jewelry

What Are Cameos and How Are They Made?

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Photos: Jewelry Making DailyAntique Jewelry University, Wikimedia Commons, Aloha Designs, Amazing AdronmentsCotton Boll Conspiracy

Posted in art nouveau, enamel, informative, jewelry history, lalique


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