Colourful, glittering and smooth – in the hands of an artist, enamel is capable of the most unpredictable transformations. Works of enamel can be compared to the works of the impressionists; such is the extent to which an auteur can both lyrically and subtly communicate their temperament.
Enamel is a natural form of quartz. In simple terms, enamelling involves a glass paste being applied to metal and then heated to fuse it to the surface. The finish of the enamel can be translucent or opaque depending on the temperature used to melt the glass. Higher temperatures result in a more transparent and durable enamel while lower temperatures give a more opaque and fragile surface.
To give enamel a particular colour, a certain number of special coloured components (pigments and dyes) have to be added. With these, almost any colour can be achieved.
WE HAVE PUT TOGETHER SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ENAMELLING:
1. The use of enamelling in jewellery dates back to the ancient Persians, Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese before being popularised by the Romans. Following the expansion of the empire to Byzantium, enamelling techniques spread to Western Europe.
The earliest known enamelled objects were made in Cyprus in around the 13th century BC during the Mycenæan period. Six gold rings discovered in a Mycenæan tomb at Kouklia were decorated with various vitreous coloured layers fused on to the gold.
2. Enamel is a glassy solid mass for “firing” which makes use of natural quartz and metal oxides which give colour. For example, violet is produced thanks to iron oxides and ruby by adding gold.
3. Enamel can be made in any colour, but hardest of all is working with the red palette. Gold, which gives the quartz a red colour often behaves unpredictably when fired in the kiln. For this reason, it’s very hard to know what colour items will be when removed from the kiln.
4. The most reliable enamel is produced with the use of only natural materials. This includes finely powdered quartz with added natural dyes (e.g. gold) instead of artificial (e.g. fibreglass).
5. The fundamental techniques of enamel are cloisonné, champlevé and painted enamel. Cloisonné is one of the most time-consuming as before metal is applied to the enamel thin metal strips must be soldered onto the edge. They form the contours of the ornament and form cells which are then filled with enamel powder. The champlevé technique is one of the most ancient – it is based on cutting grooves on the surface of the metal of sufficient thickness which are then filled with enamel and fired. And for the application of the painted enamel, a flat metal surface is usually used together with a brush.
There is something infinitely fascinating how in our modern world, with its rapid technological advances, an ancient technique like enamelling lives on and continues to be treasured by both creators and wearers of jewellery. You can see some of the examples below.
If you ever wondered what enamelling looks like in action, watch Ilgiz Fazulzyanov, “the king of enamel”, creating of one of his beautiful pieces: