If you are into estate jewelry in any way shape or form then you have run across enameling at some point during your travels. Whether you collect jewelry or giftware, enameling has a long history of use of being both practical and ornamental. Personally, when I run across a beautiful enameled piece of jewelry that is antique I am blown away.
The History of Enameling
Basic enameling is the practice of fusing powdered glass to metal and began as early the sixth century BC. There were many styles of enameling, from Greek to Celtic to Byzantine and France was the epicenter of enameling until the mid 1700’s, when industrial methods began to be used to replace hand crafted enamels.
Although the fine art of enamel isn’t practiced today very much, the best and most famous example of enameling is Faberge.
Types of Enameling
Enamel backings are usually metal and when the piece is a fine piece of estate jewelry, the metal is pure gold or silver. Enamel can be decorated with metallic foil, wire or with tiny accents stamped with thin sheets of gold or silver.
- Cloisonné – The oldest type of enameling where areas of color are separated by thin metal strips that are inlaid or soldered to the metal backing
- Piqué-a-Jour – see-through enamel like a stained glass window
- Champlevé – cells that contain the enamel are cut or etched in the metal
- Basse-Tailee – the metal background is engraved to show a raised design under the enamel
- Taille d’Epergne – fine, even depth engraved lines filled with opaque enamel
- Guilloche – engraved or tooled in fine geometric motive, creative a reflective sheen
- En Plein – plain, smooth surface, usually solid colored
- Grisaille – subtle enamel painted in tones of black and gray or purple or brown and designs scratched through light top layers show the dark tone of the base layer
- En Resille – backing of engraved glass or rock crystal, lined with gold and enameled
- Niello – black metallic inlay technique, effective in silver
How to Judge the Age of Enameling
A true enameled antique will still hold its value because it is an art form that is not practiced anymore. How do you know if you have an antique or a reproduction?
- Technical advances provide a wide range of commercially available colors that weren’t available back then
- The modern electric kiln provides a higher fusing temperature, which gives a more even appearance on modern enamels
- The metal backing won’t be stamped, punched or etched
- An organic lacquer is used instead of glass
- The enamel is a transfer
- Note the design work to try to determine the time period