Enamel is such an alluring and tantalizing material. There are few such substances that hold such a saturation of colour, and can be used in such a variety of ways, and when it is properly done, it literally glows.
But there is a reason for that. In essence, enamel is a layer of glass, usually applied over a polished or patterned metal ground which, when transparent, reflects the light back through it, giving the richness of colour and the glow we associate with this beautiful lustrous material.
As enamel is a constant in the stock we have at Antiques Art Design, I thought I would share with you some of the techniques and terms that apply to enamel so you can understand the process, or indeed, impress a few friends when admiring their pieces.
(Most of the terms are French so I apologise in advance to the Francophiles amongst us, but I am going to give the phonetics for these because if you are going to wield your knowledge to the best advantage, you may as well have the correct terminology and pronunciation.)
Champlevé – (phonetically sh–omp–lev-ay) this applies to a pattern engraved into a metal, most commonly brass, but also silver and gold, that creates little individual cells for the colour to pool in, and so it creates a tile like effect with a border around each individual shape.
Cloisonné – (Cl–wah-son-ney) this method is where the patterns of cells or “cloisons”, as they are called, are created by soldering or fusing fine wire patterns to the surface of the object. These wires can be gold, silver, copper or even brass. The enamel is then applied, fired and polished back to create a smooth surface. It can take numerous firings and repeat applications to fill the cells.
Plique-à-jour – (Pleek–a–jure) the success of this technique is in that the enamel is fired onto an open framework creating transparent areas with a stained glass like effect. This technique was revived with great success in art nouveau jewellery.