July 2017 Newsletter

  • By Antiques-Art-Design Sydney

“The purpose of art is washing the daily dust of life off our souls”

Pablo Picasso

Assortment of Norwegian silver gilt and enamel butterflies c.1950 $345-$545

Hello there,
To relieve the winter blues, this month we look at enamel; the richly coloured hues and techniques behind the craft. We also discuss the new exhibition of pearls at the Australian Maritime Musuem. Stay warm and happy reading!

Blowing out the Candles in July ... birthday dinner for eight
Shaw propounds, Huxley confounds, Mahler resounds, Jung expounds, Kubrick astounds, Wedgewood passes a plate, Cardin cuts the cake. Estee Lauder makes up the eight.
Cold Comfort

In winter I’m a card-carrying citizen of the Procrasti Nation. I can and do sleep for Australia. No performance enhancing drugs required. I used to feel guilty about this and frankly a bit embarrassed because it was generally believed that the higher your IQ the less sleep you need - braniacs stay up all night strategizing, designing, planning, solving, inventing, creating, innovating blah blah blah - and if this was true I’d have the brainpower of a barnacle without the compensatory virtue of persistence.
Fortunately this theory bit the dust with the thrilling revelation that Albert Einstein, everyone’s go-to guy for genius, not only because he was one but because he looked the part – wild eyes, mad hair, odd socks - was an inveterate napper. Turns out Mr Relativity could barely keep his eyes open after lunch. Marvellous news. But wait. There’s more. According to recent thinking, one of the reasons for the industriousness typical of South East Asian societies is that the warm climate affords year-round rice cultivation – a crop that requires constant care and complex decision-making ability, which over generations has created a population of quick- thinking workaholics. Compare this to chilly Northern Europe where, pre-technology, my ancestors tilled, planted, harvested, cleaned the tools and then pretty much went to bed for four months while outside the wind howled and the snow drifted. So along with fair skin, freckles and an addiction to stodge my gift for hibernation is genetic.

Now I know what you’re thinking, this is Sydney Australia, where even in mid-winter hardy souls dine al fresco and bare shoulders abound, but for me, captive to my DNA, anything below twenty degrees might just as well be zero. So it’s on with the beanie (PC pink) and under the doona and whatever isn’t absolutely essential to maintain propriety or ensure survival can wait until spring.
Who am I to argue with science? 

Lorna Lesley

Marius Hammer silver guilloché and paillonné enamel footed dish c.1900 Norway $1,250
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.

Levinger and Bissinger plique-à-jour and moonstone silver and gold brooch c.1905 Pforzheim Germany 
Basse-taille – (bass–tay) is an extension of the Champlevé technique and uses a hand textured or engraved ground within the cells to add texture, or catch and refract the light.
Guilloché – (Ghee–o–shay) is similar to Basse-taille but its unique factor is that the ground is machine engraved, usually by an engine turned lathe.  Guilloché patterns are often very regular and precise and the examples that you will most often see in this style are, concentric circles, stripes and lattices or waving lines.
Flinqué - (Flin–cay) for the watch aficionados and horologists amongst us, you probably already know that this is a radiating patterned dial on a watch or clock.
Paillonné – (Pay–yon–nay) is a delicate technique using either foil as a background to add texture or small foil “jewels” or “paillons” to the decoration. In the case of the small paillons they are added in between layers and so seem to float in the enamel.
Unfortunately for us all, hot-fired enamel is in very limited production these days.  There are numerous health risks; as the cleaning of the surface in preparation for the enamel requires cyanide, and the metals that make the glorious colours we see, are transformed often into noxious gases when fired.  The modern substitute, which is cold-fired enamel lacks the hard vitreous texture and is often thick and gluggy looking, and glue like in comparison.
So there is a good reason why collectors are so passionate about enamel and it surely is something that once you discover its many nuances, you are certain to become entranced.

Christopher Becker
Clockwise from top left: David Andersen silver gilt multi coloured basse-taille enamel butterfly brooch $495, Gucci 18k gold and royal blue enamel bracelet watch $12,500, Chinese silver and enamel miniature cloisonné vase $1,450, Antonio Fallaci silver bracelet with white and blue enamel 1970s $1,450.
“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography.”
― Federico Fellini 

Lustre: Pearling and Australia on at the Australian Maritime Museum Pyrmont, Sydney until 13th August
Image courtesy of

Lustre: Pearling and Australia
As well as providing safe anchor for our most revered maritime relics, the Australian Maritime Museum hosts exhibitions that trace the history of our profound relationship with the sea through centuries of exploration, fishing, trade, migration, war and leisure. Its current showing, Lustre: Pearling in Australia, interweaves Aboriginal, Asian and European cultures from Shark Bay to the Torres Strait Islands to reveal the grit & glamour of Northern Australia’s pearling industry through the lives of the people who built it. 

Lorna Lesley
Image courtesy of
The Last Word…

to create work as a way of deterring suitors
a productive alternative to swiping left
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