known enameled pieces have been dated to the 13th century BC, when
Mycenaean goldsmiths inlaid enamels into gold rings. Since then,
cultures all over the world have incorporated enameling into their
art forms. In the 5th century BC, Greek artisans used enamel to
decorate artwork such as the Phidias statues of Zeus.
In the 9th through 11th centuries AD, gold cloisonné was
popularized in the Byzantine Empire. In Germany, enameling was introduced
by a Byzantine princess, Theophano, who married the German King
Otto 11, and then brought craftsmen with her from her native land.
Thus German enamels were heavily influenced by these Byzantine roots.
In Western Europe in the 12th century, champlevé religious
objects were produced. And Renaissance goldsmiths, like Cellini,
created beautiful enameled pieces in basse taille and plique a jour.
A revolution in enameling occurred in the late 15th century when
the family of Pénicaud innovated a new method of "Painting"
with enamels. As this was developed in the French town of Limoges,
the method is called limoges. This was the first time that enamel
colors touched each other without the use of separating wires or
metal. Using this method, portraits and other scenes could realistically
be reproduced. The art of portraiture was highly developed by the
great 16th century enamelists Leonard Limousin and Pierre Reymond.
Subjects and objects used for enamels are wide spread, but religious
themes and objects have always been a favorite.
Other common themes are flowers and animals.
Common objects are boxes, candlesticks, Jewelry, and watches. Enameled
watches were first introduced at the end of the 16th century. Enamels
have also been used instead of gemstones in precious jewelry and
other objects. For example, in medieval times, a style of jewelry,
called the garnet jewel, was popular. In these pieces, garnet was
cut flat and inlaid between a metal framework that had been soldered
to a metal backing, which was then repousséd. Today, this
construction is done using enamels instead of actual gemstones.
The Arts and Crafts movement, in modern times, has made a large
impact in enameling. Kenneth F. Bates, an American university educator,
moved enameling out of 'chobby art" and is credited with influencing
a multitude of modern enamelists. Schools like the Kulicke Stark
Academy of Jewelry Arts in New York City in the 1970s trained many
enamelists and instilled a love of the medium. Fred Ball, with his
innovative approaches to enameling, helped many students to stretch
their imagination in working with enamels. Today there are craft
schools and universities around the world teaching enameling. The
most well known organization of enamelists in the United States
is The Enamelist Society, which sponsors conferences every other
year, publishes a magazine, and has members in countries around
the world. Local guilds exist, but the number of enamelists still
Through the years, a variety of enameling techniques has been developed.
Some involve how the metal is prepared and some involve how the
enamel is applied. The following defines the most prevalent, but
by no means all, techniques:
Basse Taille: French for "low cut." A technique in which a pattern is
created in the metal backing before enameling. See Metal Patterning
for Basse Taille on page 26 for information on how to get patterns
onto the metal.
Camaieu: also called "en camaieu," a term dating from the mid 18th
century describing a grisalille like technique which uses a buildup
of white enamel to create highlights and light areas. However, instead
of using a black backgroud, as in grisaille, transparent enamel
is laid in first, beneath the whites. This technique is frequently
used on snuffboxes, watches, and medallions.
Champlevé: French for "raised field" or "raised plain."
A technique in which enamel is inlaid into depressions in the metal,
leaving metal exposed. The depressions are typically made by an
etching process, although other methods exist. First done in the
3rd century AD by the Celts decorating their shields, this technique
has been one of the favorite forms of enameling.
Cloisonné French for "cloison" or "cell." A technique
in which metal wires are bent to form a design; enamel is then inlaid
into the resulting "cloisons." Although this can be done
in copper, contemporary cloisonné is most frequently done
in silver or gold. The Byzantine Empire, 6th century AD, was the
setting for gold cloisonné pieces of a religious nature.
In the same time frame, the Japanese were producing scenes of nature.
In China, cloisonné has been used since the 13th century
Ginbari Foil: a technique, developed in Japan, using a foil design made with an
embossing plate. This is an excellent technique for reproducing
a design, as the embossing plate is reusable. It somewhat has the
look of cloisonné however, the "lines" are not
wire, they are embossed foil. See the Ginbari Foil Embossing project
on page 68.
Grisaille: French for "greyness." A form of "Painting"
with enamel in a monochrome, using a black background with a buildup
of white overlays. See the Grisaille project on page 74.
Guilloche: French for "engine turning". Englne turning is the mechanical
cutting of lines on metal to create a design. Because the pattern
is engraved, the reflection of light through the overcoating of
transparent enamel is enhanced, and its brilliance can be seen as
the piece is moved from side to side. The best known, but not the
first, artist using this technique was Fabergé, in Russia,
who, when showing pieces in Paris in 1900, brought a new interest
to this technique. Guilloche was a dying art until Pledge &
Aldworth Engine Turners, an English firm, revived it in the 1970s.
Impasto: a technique in which acid resistant painting enamel is applied to
a bare metal surface, then fired. Multiple layers can be worked
to build up a relief design, which can be sculptural in effect.
Finally, the piece is covered with a transparent color. Other colors
then can be added in thin layers only.
Limoges: a technique of "Painting" with enamel in which different
enamel colors are put next to each other without the separation
of wire or surface metal.
Plique a jour: French for "membrane through which passes the light of day."
A technique that resembles miniature stained glass and is reminiscent
of its Art Nouveau and old world influences. There are two basic
methods of plique a jour: surface tension enameled and etched enameled.
The surface tension enameled method has two different styles of
metal construction: the first is pierced.
The etched enameled method is called Shotai jippo, and sometimes
"crystallized cloisonné" in Japan.
It is done somewhat like cloisonné with a copper backing
and silver wires, but after the piece has been finished, the copper
backing is etched off. Plique a jour pieces, because of the open
back, are more fragile than other types of enamels.
Raku: a technique in which hot enamel that includes oxides is put through
a reduction firing, resulting in iridescent colors. The technique
can be used with or without silver nitrate crystals.
Sgraffito: a technique in which lines are drawn through a layer of unfired
enamel, exposing the fused enamel (or bare metal) underneath.
Silkscreen: a technique in which designs on material mesh, such as silk, polyester,
or nylon, are transferred onto an enameled base; this is similar
to silkscreening on cloth.
Stenciling: a technique in which a design is cut into a material, such as paper
or Mylar, through which the enamel is applied to, or removed from,
the metal. Thus, the "holes" that are cut can be either
the positive or the negative space of the design. That is, one can
sift enamel onto the metal, lay down the stencil, then use a brush
to remove the enamel in the cut out area (negative).
Torch fired: a method of enameling in which a torch is used for the heat source,
instead of a kiln.:
China Paints: low fire compatible ceramic materials that can be used on the top
surface of enamels.
Overglazes and Underglazes: finely ground pigments used either over or under the regular enameling
layers. Underglazes are particularly effective, in a basse taille
Copper Screen or Pot scrubber Mesh: elements for use on top or under transparent enamels, giving a wonderful
texture to a piece. The screen can be used to give an interesting
If used slightly under the enamel surface, when the surface is ground
down, screening can give the effect of woven fabric as the stoning
picks up the high parts where the warp wire crosses over the weft
wire, leaving copper glints that give a textured pattern on the
Decals: designs or pictures printed on specially prepared paper for transferring
an image to enamel, glass, wood, etc.
Foil and Leaf: come in both fine silver and gold. In addition, leaf, which is much
thinner, also comes in palladium. These elements can be placed under
the enamel or on a top layer.
Gemstones: can be added in an enameled area, using a metal bezel, which adds
relief to a flat piece. See the Stone Setting Within an Enamel project
on page 130. a Granules: small grains of fine silver or 22k or 24k
gold that can be used for top layer embellishment of an enameled
piece. See the cloisonné Brooch project on page 52. Note
that these small balls can be "granulated" (fused) to
a thin back plate and then enameled around.
Glass Beads and Balls: can be purchased without holes and fused to the top of enameled
pieces. See the Liquid Enamel and Glass Ball Additives project on
Lumps and Threads:"lumps" are odd formed chunks of colored glass and "threads"
are filaments (short or long, thin or thick) of colored glass. Each
can be fused into an enameled piece. See Torch fired Beads project
on page 142.
Lusters: metal colors thinly applied on the top layer of an enameled piece.
These sometimes fire with a crackle maze effect, allowing the enamel
underneath to show through. Some fire iridescent and some opalescent.
Metal: small pieces of shaped metal can be added on the top layer of an
enameled piece. They are embedded in a similar way to granules.
Millefiori: cross sections of glass canes that include intricate patterns. Millefiori
is best known in Venetian glass objects such as vases, paperweights,
and lamps. There are some methods of enameling that do not fit into
either a technique or a decorative additive, but are a combination
of the two. These include:
Firescale Enameling: the use of the oxide buildup on a metal. Some pieces are completely
done through firescale manipulation (by painting with a holding
agent, sifting transparent enamels, and building up the resulting
firescale lines), and some pieces are enhanced by the additive use
of firescale (could be from a flaked off piece that is reattached).
Separation Enameling: a special type of enamel that when applied over regular enamel,
indents the enamel and changes its color. See the Separation Enameling
project on page 114. In reality, any of these techniques, decorative
additives, and methods can be combined to make a piece that is truly
unique. Simply let the imagination soar.