When it comes to fine jewellery, Enamel Jewellery has not lost its significance even in the modern times although its roots go back into the 13th Century BC. It is known by several names, including porcelain enamel, painted glass, and vitreous enamel. It is one of the oldest techniques for decorating the surface of jewellery. The thing with enamel jewellery is that it keeps pace with time and changes to meet the demands of the modern era. It is a substance that is the only way in which the artist can bring to life his creative vision.
Enamel jewelry has been around since the 13th-century B.C.E when Mycenaean goldsmiths inlaid enamels into gold rings. The ancient Persians called this form of art Meenakari. The ancient Egyptians also practiced enamel work on stone objects and pottery.
Since then, it has evolved and branched out, going in and out of fashion as jewellery trends changed. A revolution in enameling occurred in the late 15th century when the family of Pénicaud innovated a new method of “Painting” with enamels. The method is called ‘Limoges’ as this was developed in the French town of Limoges. Religious art, flowers, and animals have been some of the favorite subjects of Enamel paintings on objects like boxes, candlesticks, Jewellery, and watches
In modern times, The Arts and Crafts movement has made a large impact on enameling. Schools like the Kulicke Stark Academy of Jewelry Arts in New York City in the 1970s trained many enamelists and instilled a love of the medium. Today there are craft schools and universities around the world teaching enameling.
Though there are many variations of enameling, the overall principle is the same. Enamel is made of metal and a powder coating. Unlike e-coating or standard gold electroplating, the enamel is rarely applied to the entire piece of jewelry. It is normally used for detailing and decorative work.
1. Polishing – The surface should be polished in order to apply enamel properly. Enameling on a rough surface will show all the scratches and abrasions under the coat of the enamel. It is by rubbing out any flaws or existing enamel on the metal with a polishing wheel.
2. Cleaning – The surface has to be absolutely clean in order to fix the enamel properly on the surfaces. After polishing, the metals are moved to an ultrasonic cleaning tank which blasts the item with bubbles in order to remove any dirt or polishing residue.
3. Enameling – After polishing and cleaning, the metal is ready to be enameled by a skilled jeweller or artisan. The enamel is applied to the areas that need color with the use of certain tools to insert the enamel in very tiny areas, such as special pin-like equipment. It is made sure that the enamel is even before sending out to curing.
4. Curing – The jewellery is baked in a special kiln which heats up to at least 1300 °F. It fuses the enamel to the surface and hardens it into a glossy, durable finish.
5. Remove the jewellery from the kiln and it is ready to wear. If the enamel has been applied properly, it will last for years without cracking or flaking off.
Some Common Enamel Jewellery Techniques
As many cultures have contributed to this form of art in their own style, there are numerous techniques used in making enamel jewellery and other objects. Here are some of the most common ways that enamel jewelry is made.
Plique à Jour
Plique à Jour is French for to let in daylight. This technique allowed light to enter the piece from the back resulting in jewellery that seemed to glow from within. In this style, vivid, fairly translucent enamel is suspended between gold or silver wires without any backing.
Champlevé Is French for French for raised field. In this technique, the jeweler creates hollows in the metal surface which is then filled with colored enamel and heated.
This is a technique involving laying flattened wires on to a metal base to create a design. The individual spaces formed by the wires are filled with enamel fondant and fired.
Meenakari is similar to cloisonné enamel but is more colorful in appearance. Persian Meenakari is typically blue and used in ornamental objects, but Indian Meenakari is known for its colorful appearance and is associated with Indian jewellery. For Meenakari, the design is first etched onto the metal and then the etchings are carefully filled with the enamel colors.
Caring for Enamel Jewelry
Enamel is fairly easy to clean and maintain. It’s quite durable and isn’t easily prone to damage. To clean an enamel jewellery, soak the piece in warm, soapy water for five to ten minutes. Then use a soft cloth or brush to remove any noticeable bits of dirt. Rinse the piece thoroughly, make sure not to leave any soapy residue on the jewelry. Dry with a lint-free cloth and store it with care. You also need to keep in mind the metal piece used in the jewellery and clean the jewellery accordingly.
If you want to prolong the life of enamel jewelry then be sure not to drop it on hard surfaces – there’s a high chance that the enamel will break away.
What to look for in Enamel Jewellery?
If you are interested in collecting enamel jewellery, look for pieces in which the enamel is in good condition, free of chips or cracks. The enamel should enhance the design of the piece, whether by adding color, contrast, or texture. Choose a reputable seller with a proven track record and always check customer reviews. Low-quality enamel finish will not last long, and the colors are likely to fade or change. Avoid shopping where prices are just too low to be true and the seller doesn’t answer your questions.
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