Why we should be enamored with enamel


Rick’s Estate & Jewelry Buyers in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Article from: http://mc.floridaweekly.com/

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that a diamond is the hardest natural substance on earth. But what is the second hardest? Believe it or not, it is your tooth’s enamel. Interestingly, both of these ultratough materials share many similar characteristics. For example, enamel and diamonds achieve their harness because of their crystalline molecular structure. Both are composed of minerals. Each is translucent (the whiteness of your teeth actually comes from the dentin below the enamel). And diamonds and enamel both look great on jewelry.

OK, I am not talking about tooth enamel here (although shark teeth jewelry is very popular here in Florida), but decorative enamel has been adorning jewelry for thousands of years. But what is enameling and how can you determine an enameled piece’s value?

Enameling is simply fusing powdered glass to metal. The earliest form of this practice was first seen in 600 BC when the Greeks developed the techniques to bond colored glass to gold. Next, Celtic enameling spread throughout Western Europe. Around the year 1000, Byzantine religious enamels became extremely popular and were coveted by the nobility. However, the French artists from 1200 to the 1600s made enameling popular and affordable among the general population. The center of this handcrafted production was in Limoges, France. However, the 1700s saw the coming of the Industrial Revolution and by the late 1800s, mass-produced industrial methods replaced fine handcrafted enamels throughout Europe. Since that time, a few companies have continued the tradition of creating handcrafted enamels, such as Faberge in Russia. But most enameling today is created by machinery.

Regardless of whether enameling is done by hand or machine, it begins with colored glass ground to a powder. The powder is washed and applied to a metal backing (generally gold, silver or copper) in a design. It is then sprayed with a wet binding agent and allowed to dry. The jewelry is exposed to extremely high heat in a kiln to fuse the glass to the metal. Then the piece is acid cleaned and this process is repeated with different colors. Harder, high heat enamels are fused prior to softer ones. Finally, accents are placed on the piece and it is fire or mechanically polished.

There are a few different enamel techniques utilized in hand crafted enamel work. The first and oldest, Cloisonné, uses thin metal trips within the piece to separate the glass colors. Usually, this style favors geometric or stylized designs. The glass of the next technique, Plique-a-jour, is more transparent like stained glass. To create this effect, a temporary backing is used during the firing and it is removed to finish the piece. Champlevé is an enameling method where cells that contain the enamel are cut or etched into the supporting metal. With Taille d’epargne, even depth engraved lines are filled with an opaque enamel. And basse-taille’s metal backing is engraved to display a raised design under the enamel.

Some artists actually paint with enamel. This allows more lifelike images and even portraits. In this method, the glass is heated until it forms a liquid and then is applied to the metal backing. The piece is then fired in several stages with each color application. Some more common painted enamel styles include En Plein, featuring solid colored smooth enamel surfaces, and Grisaille, where designs are actually scratched through light-colored top coats of enamel so you can the dark undercoat colors of enamel below.

In creating enameled jewelry today, modern manufacturers use electric kilns and machinery to precisely create beautiful pieces. However, the quality of the enamel often is compromised due to mass production. Instead of using glass, organic lacquers are often utilized which dramatically affects the durability of the enamel as well. Some manufacturers even use decals in place of true enamel. Because of this, fine enamel jewelry that predates the industrial revolution is much more highly valued that more modern jewelry. And these pieces must be closely examined for authenticity and condition. A few hairline cracks or chips can dramatically affect the value of the item.

That is why it is critical when either buying or selling enamel jewelry to go to a reputable expert like Rick’s Estate & Jewelry Buyers in Punta Gorda. We have a great selection of enamel rings, earrings, pendants and pins to choose from.

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