For millennia, jewelers and artisans of decorative objects have used enamel techniques to enliven and adorn their creations. The colors created through the use of enamel have been so sought after that they have adorned even the crowns of kings, such as King Saint Stephen of Hungary. Enamel is a glass-like substance of any color that is applied to metal and allowed to harden into a glossy surface. There are myriad methods of enameling, but some of the most common in jewelry are as follows:
From the Beladora Archives: Antique Victorian Diamond Snake Ring with Cloisonne Enamel Scales
Cloisonne: A process whereby a pattern or picture is formed using metal to create chambers, or “cloisons,” in which the enamel is then applied. This method creates a fairly straightforward finish where different colored enamels are distinct.
From the Beladora Archives: Guilloche Enameled Box
Guilloche: Translating to “engine-turned,” guilloche is an enameling process where a piece of metal that has been etched by machine with a pattern (typically a non-figural, geometric design) is overlaid with translucent enamel. This enamel is commonly found in watch faces and sometimes in objets de vertu.
Limoges: An exceptionally beautiful process that features hand-painting, often to form a portrait. Whereas other types of enamel usually use only one color or feature distinct panels of color, the limoges process is a masterful blend of colors that give a wonderfully artistic quality to the work.
Plique-à-Jour: One of the most beautiful of all enameling techniques, plique-à-jour — translating to “open to light” or “open to day” — strongly resembles stained glass. Translucent enamel is applied in between metal wires with an open back that lets light filter through the gorgeous colors.
Enamel has allowed for numerous innovations in jewelry design. As an easily workable material, it provides a lovely and lively way to incorporate color into an item of jewelry without the use of expensive or rare gemstones. As an application, enamel provides jewelers with the ability to create vivid pictures of incredible depth and intricacy — in miniature.
From the Beladora Archives: Antique Art Nouveau Plique-à-Jour Enamel and Natural Pearl Brooch
In addition, the material allows for a lifelike re-creation of natural objects. This particular trait made enamel highly popular during the Art Nouveau period, where natural things could be beautifully and precisely rendered in soft, realistic colors.
From the Beladora Archives: Retro Plique-à-Jour Enamel Flower Earrings
Because enamel is a delicate glass-like material, fine ancient examples are rare. However, the traditional techniques have continued to this day and fine jewelers — notably David Webb animal pieces — still adorn their items with this bold, brilliant and truly beautiful substance.