CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

What is Enamel Jewelry? Everything You Need to Know

Enamel is colorful and versatile, and has been used for centuries to create exciting pieces of jewelry in every possible style. If you find yourself asking the question “What is enamel jewelry?” or “What is enamel on jewelry?” and want to learn more, read on!

 

What is enamel jewelry made of?

To start, jewelers take enamel powder in their chosen color and fuse the powder coating to the base metal using high temperatures. The result is a sleek look, and one can choose any color under the sun. This technique can cause the enamel coating to be translucent or opaque depending on the temperature used. While hotter temperatures result in clearer and more translucent enamel, low temperatures can also give pleasing results for those interested in solid, opaque shades. Overall, higher temperatures result in stronger enamel and better vibrancy.
 

Enamel’s versatility helps it stand out among the many mediums available to jewelers today, complementing every style from delicate to bold. Historically, jewelry enameling has been used primarily to capture the color and vibrancy of gemstones without the laborious and expensive process of mining, cutting and setting these precious stones. Today, many prefer to incorporate enamel into jewelry for its unique appearance and fashionable color options. Different types of jewelry metals can provide additional color or excitement to an enamel jewelry piece as well.

 
Lalique Citrine and Enamel Brooch
 
Lalique Citrine and Enamel Brooch
 

In this brooch by famed artist Rene Lalique, black enamel details frame a sizeable citrine. Lalique was known for his impressive Art Nouveau creations, which emphasized natural lines and craftsmanship. His use of enamel perfectly complements his gemstone of choice and displays his passion for organic, curving forms that mimic the beauty of the natural world.

 

What are the types of enamel jewelry?

Enameling techniques can take many different forms, resulting in styles that range from delicate to bold. When examining an enamel jewelry piece, it’s important to know the different techniques used and how they affect its overall look.

 
Art Nouveau Plique-a-Jour Enamel Pendant
 
Art Nouveau Plique-a-Jour Enamel Pendant
 

One historical technique, known as plique-a-jour, results in a translucent appearance allowing light to enter from behind the enamel. This stunning stained-glass effect was popular during the Art Nouveau period and continues to inspire today. In the pendant above, framed sections of light blue enamel demonstrate the plique-a-jour effect, creating an intricate background for the descending golden leaves.

 
Gold and cloisonné bracelet. Greek, Cypriot. 5th century B.C.  The Metropolitan (New York).
 
Gold and cloisonné bracelet. Greek, Cypriot. 5th century B.C. The Metropolitan (New York).
 

Cloisonné enamel requires jewelers to construct wire frames, which are then filled with enamel in different shades. The wires used remain visible in the final piece, which gives cloisonné jewelry a bold, outlined look. In the example above, the raised gold frames are shown which would contain the enamel pieces. Because of the age of the piece, the actual enamel may have been lost for centuries.

 
Gold and Enamel Pocket Watch by George Prior
 
Gold and Enamel Pocket Watch by George Prior
 

Essentially a reversal of the cloisonné technique, Champlevé enamel features divots on the metal surface where enamel is applied, resulting in a smooth finish. This technique was popular during the Middle Ages in France and Germany, but has had a long-lasting influence, with the watch above dating to the early 19th century.

 
Buccellati Enamel and Diamond Bracelet
 
Buccellati Enamel and Diamond Bracelet
 

Guilloche enamel entails a design carefully carved into metal which is then filled with translucent enamel, allowing the patterns to emerge from within. In the bracelet above, blue enamel forms the decorative edge, further illuminated by white diamonds and gold accents.

 
Renaissance Cameo Pendant
 
Renaissance Cameo Pendant
 

Enamelwork can also be three-dimensional, as seen in the ronde bosse enamel accents applied to the cameo pendant above. This piece dates to the Renaissance, which was when the innovative technique first emerged.

 

How long does enamel jewelry last?

The characteristics of enamel jewelry may partially influence its durability, but all enamel jewelry features a similar potential to last for years. Some examples of enamel jewelry are centuries old, demonstrating how long-lasting this material can be. Artisans in the Byzantine Empire and even Ancient Greece used enamel in jewelry, some of which can still be found in museums today. Enamel was also used outside of jewelry to adorn decorative objects for the home, many of which have been preserved as well.

 
Temple Pendant and Stick. Byzantine, ca. 1080–1150. The Metropolitan (New York).
 
Temple Pendant and Stick. Byzantine, ca. 1080–1150. The Metropolitan (New York).
 

The pendant above features cloisonné enamel encased in gold, and dates to the Byzantine empire, making it centuries old.

 

One famed jewelry maker who incorporated enamel into his designs is Jean Schlumberger, known for his work with Tiffany and Co. Beginning at the firm in the 1950s, Schlumberger is known for his fantastic enamel creations which rival the beauty of gemstones. His intriguing works attracted collectors such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and the Duchess of Windsor.

 
Blue Enamel Earrings by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co.
 
Blue Enamel Earrings by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co.
 

These classic enamel earrings feature gold striped accents, emphasizing Schlumberger’s mastery over multiple mediums.

 

Does enamel jewelry scratch easily or change color?

You may be wondering about the potential to scratch or damage your piece of enamel jewelry, and luckily there are few risks of scratches or fading colors when jewelry is properly cleaned and stored. In any regard, you’ll want to learn how to clean antique jewelry, especially when it comes to your enamel pieces.

 

To clean your enamel jewelry, make sure to use a gentle soap to wipe down each piece. After fully drying your jewelry to prevent rust, enamel jewelry should be stored in a secure spot where it is unlikely to be dropped or crushed. Depending on whether your enamel jewelry includes other gemstones or is antique, additional steps to care for each piece may be necessary. Overall, enamel is a relatively durable material, but can still be damaged if dropped onto hard surfaces, which means special care should be taken for enamel rings and bracelets which may face more wear than necklaces or earrings. The craftsmanship of each individual piece will also determine how easily jewelry can be damaged.

 

Since enamel jewelry can last for decades, the question of when to wear enamel jewelry is easily answered: anytime! Enamel is not likely to fade in the sun, meaning it can complement daytime or evening ensembles with ease.

 
Enameled Pig Cufflinks
 
Enameled Pig Cufflinks
 

These vintage cufflinks feature charming pigs crafted of enamel and linked with fine silver, demonstrating the creative possibilities of this medium, as well as its long-lasting nature.

 

From an enamel ring or pendant necklace to dangle earrings, enamel jewelry can make a fantastic addition to your jewelry collection, especially if you favor creative, bold designs. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of enameling, M.S. Rau’s collection includes antique jewelry and other decorative pieces featuring enamelwork.

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