Enamel Techniques

In this post, I will show some examples of some (but by no means all) types of enamel work used in antique and period jewelry.  What is really amazing to me is just how many different types of enamel techniques there are. I am sure there are many that I have missed here; I will try and add them to this post over time.

Cloisonné

In cloisonné the outlines of the design are the result of the tiny ‘cloisons’ or cells that contain the enamel.

These cells are shaped from thin gold strips.

France, c. 1867 Cloisonné enamel and gold V&A Museum

France, c. 1867
Cloisonné enamel and gold
V&A Museum

Foiled Enamel

In this technique, designs of translucent enamel are painted over foil to give an amazing effect.

Scotland, c. 1902 Foiled enamel, gold, glass pendant V&A Museum

Scotland, c. 1902
Foiled enamel, gold, glass pendant
V&A Museum

Plique à jour

This kind of enamel work is created with no metal backing, hence the translucent and stained glass like effect of the end result.

Belgium, c. 1905-1907 Hair ornament, gold, plique-a-jour enamel, diamonds and rubies V&A Museum

Belgium, c. 1905-1907
Hair ornament, gold, plique-a-jour enamel, diamonds and rubies
V&A Museum

Bressan Enamels

These kinds of enamels came from Bourg-en-Bresse in France during the 19th century.  They were created with individual plaques of colorful enamel made with separate drops of colour and tiny shapes made from gold leaf.  These plaques were set in jewellery as if they were precious stones, often with a tiny stone in the center of the plaques.

France, c. 1870 Silver-gilt filigree with Bressan enamels and coloured pastes V&A Museum

France, c. 1870
Silver-gilt filigree with Bressan enamels and coloured pastes
V&A Museum

Ronde-Bosse Enamel

This type of enamel is when a small, three dimension figure is created by enameling a framework of gold or silver or wire.

France, c. 1890 Figures of enamelled gold (ronde-bosse enamel), with a central baroque pearl, set with table-cut diamonds and a cabochon ruby, and hung with a pendent pearl V&A Museum

France, c. 1890
Figures of enamelled gold (ronde-bosse enamel), with a central baroque pearl, set with table-cut diamonds and a cabochon ruby, and hung with a pendent pearl
V&A Museum

Basse-Taille Enamel

Basse-taille is created by engraving the design into the metal, usually gold or silver.  The entire piece is then covered in translucent enamel so that the engraved low relief design shows through.

Paris, c. 1850 Bracelet, enamelled gold set with pearls V&A Museum

Paris, c. 1850
Bracelet, enamelled gold set with pearls
V&A Museum

Taille d’épargne

In this enamel technique, designs are engraved in the metal and then filled with enamel, usually blue or black.

England, c. 1862 Bracelet, gold, enamel, rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds, pavé-set turquoises, half-pearls V&A Museum

England, c. 1862
Bracelet, gold, enamel, rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds, pavé-set turquoises, half-pearls
V&A Museum

Painting with enamel

This is when the enamel is applied to the metal in the same way an artist would apply paint.

Paris, c. 1870 Enameled gold ring with diamonds V&A Museum

Paris, c. 1870
Enameled gold ring with diamonds
V&A Museum

En Resillé

In this type of enamel work, the design is incised on rock crystal or glass paste and the incisions lined first with gold and then with opaque or translucent enamel.

Europe, c. 1850-1900 Locket, enamelled gold (émail en résille sur verre) and baroque pearl V&A Museum

Europe, c. 1850-1900
Locket, enamelled gold (émail en résille sur verre)
and baroque pearl
V&A Museum

Camaieu

This is a technique where a monochromatic image is created using layers of white and grey. Usually used in snuffboxes etc.

Switzerland, late 18th century. Gold decorated with brown camaieu enamel, surrounded by a border of seed pearls. V&A Museum

Switzerland, late 18th century.
Gold decorated with brown camaieu enamel, surrounded by a border of seed pearls.
V&A Museum

En grisaille

This is a technique where a monochromatic image is created using a black background. Usually used in snuffboxes etc.

London, 1780 Enameled gold box V&A Museum 

London, 1780
Enameled gold box
V&A Museum 

Niello

Niello is usually classified as a kind of enameling technique although it is not a true enamel.  Instead of the powdered glass enamel, a mixture of sulphur, lead, copper and silver is used.  The design is engraved in the metal and then the mixture is applied.  The piece is then fired.  When it is polished, all of the mixture is removed apart from that which is left inside the engraving.  The result is always black; niello looks different from black enameling because it doesn’t have the same glassy effect and is more metallic seeming.

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