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  • Writer's pictureAntiques in Oxford

Types of Enamel

Enamelling is one of the most widely used techniques that adds to an item’s decorative appeal. Commonly used on silver items, it is the process of fusing a thin layer onto a metal ground. There are numerous methods of doing this, with the process having been around for thousands of years. The three main ways of enamelling metal are cloisonné, plique-à-jour and Guilloché.

Cloisonné

This is one of the oldest enamelling techniques and was first created and used in the Far East. Examples can be found in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt dating to 3000 BC. Cloisonné is the handcrafted technique of using coloured glass paste and thin strips of wire to create an intricate design on a metal object. The ‘cloisons’ (French for partitions) is where this enamel process forms its name due to the use of wire to create such partitions on the metal. The item is then usually kiln-fired to ensure the paste is at the desired size (as heat shrinks the glass). This technique is mostly found on jewellery and smaller pieces.  

 

Plique-à-jour

A similar technique to cloisonné, but with no backing to the final product. This in turn allows light to shine through the translucent enamel, giving a ‘stained-glass’ effect. This technique has existed since the Byzantine Empire (500 AD) and got its name from the French term “letting in daylight”. This is a complex technique which was once lost around the 16th century. However, it was revived in the 19th century,when the revivalist movement took place. The complicated technique is not as commonly used as the others. That is because of its complex nature and high failure rate. This is why it makes any item with this technique a sought-after item for a collector.

 

Guilloché

This is a mechanical technique of enamelling. Using a machine to create an engine turned ground, a precise and intricate pattern is created on the metal. This can also be done by hand to create the same effect but is far more time-consuming. Then a transparent enamel is placed over the design to create a clean finish. This technique dates to at least the 1770s. It is believed to have been named after a French engineer ‘Guillot’ who may have invented such machinery. Furthermore, this enamelling process is a luxurious one and has commonly been used by companies like Fabergé and Cartier to create such fineries like jewellery, watches, and more.

 

Enamelled items are timeless collectables, with the three techniques adding vibrant character to every object they’re featured on.

 

 



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