January Blog 2021


January 2021

Well having consigned 2020 to the dark archives, here we are at the start of 2021 and the hope that it will be a better year for us all.


I decided that it was about time that I concentrated some effort on my enamelling skills and in particular creating some pieces with cloisonné. In my last blogs, I’ve focused on different gems and will go back to talking about some more types in the future.  However, I thought that in this blog we’d look at enamelling in general and there are links to a couple of videos that demonstrate some enamelling techniques which I’m sure you’ll find interesting.


So, what is enamel? Put simply it’s glass that has been ground finely into powder. There are two types of powdered enamel – "opaque" which has a solid look when fired and "translucent" which is see through and can be used when there is a design on the metal that needs to be shown. There are also enamels for use when painting designs on the metal.


The vitreous powder is applied to metal in various ways and then fired in a kiln at high temperatures and forms a lovely shiny glaze. It is long-lasting and hard-wearing and has adorned jewellery in some way or another for centuries although where and when it was first used is uncertain. It has been used to “add colour” to jewellery and substituted for precious gems which were either too expensive or unviable to use due to the nature or design of the item. Religious jewellery and even some armour has been adorned with enamel for a long time and plenty of stunning enamelling examples can be seen in museums around the world. Enamel can be used successfully on a variety of metals including gold and silver, but copper is one of the best to use.


So how is enamel applied and what techniques are used. Whatever surface the enamel is being applied to has to be clean and grease-free otherwise the enamel process doesn’t work properly. I use disposable plastic gloves when I’m cleaning the metal that I’m going to use to avoid grease from my fingers and thereafter I either use small tweezers or very carefully hold the edges of the piece to move it for firing. There are a number of techniques employed and each gives the jewellery a distinct look. Depending on the type of enamel, process and colour, the kiln temperature ranges between 700 – 900 degrees C. Most of my enamels fire at between 720 & 850 pdegrees C.  The time in the kiln is critical as it is easy to over fire, so a timer is a crucial bit of equipment.


Whilst there is nothing simple about enamelling, sifting (see pink pendant above) is probably the most straightforward method involving adding the enamel powder to a small sieve and shaking gently over the metal until it has been completely covered with a fine layer. It can then be fired. Several layers of enamel may be required depending on what look is wanted from the process.


Cloisonné (see my effort above) is the method by which fine silver wires are used to create “cloisonnés” or cells. These wires are fused to the metal surface by either soldering them on or using a special gum and fired in the kiln. Once the metal has cooled, the cells are packed with coloured wet enamel, left to dry and then fired at the appropriate temperature. The idea is to build up the layers of enamel to fill the cells, sanding the enamel in between layers to make them smooth and shiny. This method takes patience and experience to perfect the technique.


Champleve is cloisonné in reverse; that is to say instead of building the layers of enamel on the surface between the wires, the metal surface is gouged out creating channels and these are filled with wet enamel before drying and firing. Metals need to be fairly thick for this process.


Basse Taille is an extension of the champleve technique. The difference between the two is that the channels created in the metal for the enamel have some form of pattern or design and translucent enamel is used.


The technique of Plique a Jour is a very tricky one to master and whilst I have managed to do a very small piece of plique, it wasn’t unsurprisingly my best effort.  The overall effect is like a stained-glass window which lets in light through the translucent enamel and is extremely effective. Designs are cut out of metal and the enamel is gradually built up from the edges to the centre.


The links below will take you to a couple of short videos on You Tube where the true experts demonstrate the art of enamelling.


Apologies for the length of this blog but enamelling does take some explaining. My next blog will be end of February/beginning of March. Meantime take care and stay safe




The Journey of a Faberge Egg

Enamelling Making an Earring