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Enamelling is an old technique in which powdered clear glass, or powdered colour glass that has been mixed with pigments, is applied to a metal object and then fired .The powder then melts, flows, and hardens to a durable, smooth vitreous coating which is in essence a layer of pure pigment on a surface. In jewellery this technique is used to make everything from flower petals on a vintage necklace, to a portrait on a old locket necklace, to the wings on an Art Nouveau dragonfly brooch.
One of the most beautiful types of enamelling is named plique à jour. This is in when the enamel is visible from each side of the jewellery piece, allowing light to penetrate and illuminate the enameling similar to a stained glass window.Translucent plique à jour butterfly wings were popular during the Art Nouveau period, while blue and green enamels were often used to suggest forests and skies in jewellery with floral foregrounds. Plique-á-jour is one of the hardest methods for applying enamel . Normal enamel is applied onto a metal base, however plique-á-jour is delicately stretched across a thin frame. The craftsmanship of a jeweller working with this technique relies on being able to correctly predict the thickness of the enamel layer.
Archibald Knox enamel brooch Plique a jour enamel butterfly brooch Cloisonne enamel brooch
A more widely produced example of enamelling is cloisonne in which areas of melted enamels are allowed to cool between filaments of copper or gold that have been soldered to the surface of the object. In cloisonné, the object is typically fired and refilled with enamel several times to account for the shrinkage of the material. The items are then polished, and sometimes even lacquered.
The champlevé technique is one of the oldest enamelling methods. It is done by cutting grooves on the surface of the metal to a particular thickness. The grooves are then filled with enamel and fired.
Enamel jewellery can be created in any colour and beautiful shades of blue , green, purple, and yellow etc can be seen in vintage and antique jewellery . However the creation of red enamel pieces can be harder to do. Gold, which gives the quartz a red colour can behave unpredictably when fired in the kiln, and therefore it is difficult to know exactly what shade the piece will be when removed from the kiln.
If you want to prolong the life of enamel jewellery then take care not to drop it on hard surfaces. There is a high chance that the enamel will break away. If this does happens, the jewellery, in many cases can be restored, although this will obviously effect the value of vintage and antique pieces. As with any jewellery, enamel jewellery requires careful handling and regular cleaning. Jewellery cleaning products or harsh chemicals should not be used with enamel jewellery as this can affect the colour of the enamel. Care should be taken to protect enamel from chipping or scratching, and the jewellery should be stored carefully in a silk pouch or similar.