What is Enamel Jewelry?
With stunning colors and bright gold lines, there's nothing like the appearance of a piece of enamel jewelry. Whether it's a pendant necklace, a set of earrings, or a bold brooch, enamel jewelry always makes a statement. Enamel pieces of different colors have been in style for centuries, from ancient times to the present day. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about enamel jewelry, including the history of the art form, the different techniques, and how to make sure your enamel jewelry stays flawless for years to come.
What is Enamel Jewelry Made Of?
Enamel jewelry is made by fusing powdered glass to a base metal at high temperatures to create a stunning, one-of-a-kind design. Jewelry makers have been using this technique to make colorful pieces of art for centuries. Historians have found fragments of enamel jewelry and artwork from the ancient Egyptians and Romans. Enamel jewelry grew in popularity in the 15th century with the development of new adhesives. These compounds could hold the glass powder on the metal until the jeweler fired the enamel pieces in a kiln. These adhesives would disappear during the firing process, allowing jewelry designers to use translucent enamels more frequently in their work. Since those early beginnings, enamel jewelry has continued to grow in popularity. These days, you can find enamel jewelry in everything from pendants and brooches to rings, earrings, and bracelets. Advancement in jewelry making has made more rich enamels that can stand up to daily wear and tear better than in previous decades. Many of the historic techniques used to make enamel jewelry are still used today, so it's important to know the differences between each method.
Different Enameling Techniques
Most types of enameled jewelry are considered vitreous enamel, which refers to the practice of fusing glass powder to metal through heat. There are several different subtypes of enamel jewelry that all have particular traits they're known for. Here is an overview of some of the most common techniques found in enamel jewelry.
Plique à Jour
This French technique is used to mimic the appearance of stained glass. Plique à Jour enamel doesn't have enamel resting on a metal base. Instead, the enamel is suspended in a metal framework so that light can filter through (Plique à Jour means "letting in daylight" in French.) It's usually made by having the jewelry piece resting on metallic foil that holds the enamel powder until it's cured. Then, after heating, the jewelry maker scrapes the foil away. This style of enameling became most popular during the Art Nouveau period.
Like Plique à Jour, Cloisonné enamel work involves thin wires of metal that outline a design and are then filled with enamel. The backing of these pieces is thicker metal designed to stay in place, which gives them a more opaque look. The wire in Cloisonné pieces is exposed after the firing process and is used as a design feature to enhance the work.
This style of enameling involves having a design shallowly pressed or carved into the metal, which is then filled with enamel powder. Different carving depths will correspond to color intensity, with deeper sections holding more enameling powder for a more saturated color. These designs' shallow nature means that they can be very intricate, with many colors and attributes across a piece. Basse-taille is one of the oldest methods of enameling, with some specimens dating back to ancient Rome.
While Plique à Jour and Cloisonné designs use wire to hold enamel powder, Champlevé uses thicker pieces of metal that are carved and grooved to hold the piece's enamel. These grooves can support more powder, which gives the enamel a raised effect from the metal's surface.
Like champlevé enameling, guilloché is a style that uses transparent enamel to show designs etched or embossed in precious metal. After the piece is fired in a kiln, you can often see the original etchings beneath the enamel, giving an additional design feature. Some famous examples of guilloché enameling include Fabergé eggs made for Russian royalty in the 19th century.
While the enameling methods listed above are used primarily in 2-D pieces, Ronde Bosse involves applying enamel to round items and sculptures. In this type of enameling, a small statue or figurine made of precious metal like gold or silver is cast or molded with a rough surface so the enamel powder can stick to it. Then, the piece is fired, so the powder melts and creates a smooth, perfect finish. Renaissance artisans initially developed this technique and often used it in churches.
Grisaille is a type of painted enamel made up of several glass layers to create a unique effect. A piece typically starts with a layer of black enamel with a design painted overtop. As glass layers are placed over one another, the black becomes darker and more opaque, making a unique and dramatic finish. This type of jewelry was prevalent during the Victorian gothic period.
How to Care for Enamel Jewelry
Enamel jewelry is a bit more delicate than precious metal pieces or gemstones. Since enamel is essentially glass, it's prone to chipping if it's handled roughly. Strong detergents can also impact how the glass is fused to the metal. This feature means it's essential to take care when wearing and cleaning your enamel jewelry.
Take care not to get your enamel jewelry wet. You shouldn't shower while wearing your enamel jewelry or wear it while swimming or sweating heavily. Enamel is often fused to reactive metals like copper, which can discolor when exposed to water. These metal oxides are often weaker and less lustrous, which risks the stability of your jewelry overall.
It's best to use soft, dry cleaning materials to clean your enamel jewelry. You can usually remove dust and grime by gently wiping your jewelry with a microfiber cloth. You can even use a very soft toothbrush to lift dirt and grime from hard-to-reach areas.
Many experts recommend using a slice of bread for painted enamel to bring the surface to a shine. The bread is soft enough to prevent any scratches or harm from coming to the enamel. You can use a soft toothbrush to clean up any breadcrumbs left behind after you've cleaned the bulk of your jewelry piece.
Whether you're looking for a unique pendant necklace or a classic brooch, there's a perfect piece of enamel jewelry for the special person in your life. While enamel jewelry requires gentle care, it's a timeless kind of jewelry that will stay in-style for a lifetime. At Alexis Jae Jewelry, we have a unique collection of enamel rings, necklaces, and earrings that your partner will love. You can even reach out to our jewelers to create a custom piece as unique and individual as your wife or girlfriend. Feel free to contact us today to see what we can do for you!
Enamel Jewelry at Alexis Jae