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When we walk past any major art craft fair or visit any galleries or jewelry shops, chances are that we may see small, brightly colored enamels in gold or silver settings with wire work and depicting animals, landscapes, flowers or abstract forms. The art of enameling consists in the application of a smooth coating of vitrified matter to a bright polished metallic surface.
This essay looks into the beauty of enameling, where and how artwork is created with colors and textures. But what is enameling? In its simplest words, enameling is the fusing of glass to metal under high temperature conditions. (Karen L Cohen-2004) The essay also depicts the past and present of enamels. The earliest known pieces have been dated to the 13th century B.C., when enamels were inlaid into gold rings by Mycenaean goldsmiths and in Greece there is evidence of jewelry from the 5th century B.C. bearing tiny bits of enamel decoration. There was revolution in enameling after the discovery and the use of glass.
In this project we will learn basic enameling skills including the different types of enamels and their characteristics, what tools and equipment are needed and what metals can be used for enameling. Through the years, a variety of enameling techniques has been developed, not all but few basic techniques are explained in the essay.
Enameling is the distinctive art of fusing finely powdered glass to a metallic base with heat, usually the temperature being 750 to 850 degree Celsius. The metals include platinum, gold, silver, copper, aluminum, bronze, steel, etc
The word enamel has been derived from the German wordÂ "smelzan1"Â which later became "esmail2" in French and hence popularly known as enamel in English and minakari in Hindi.
Herbert Maryon, Metalwork and enamelling: a practical treatise on gold and silversmiths, (Dover Publication, Inc 1971), pp.169.
Then & Now of enameling:
Initially enameling was discovered in Cyprus in around 13th century BC in the duration of Mycenaean3 period. There were six gold rings that were observed in a Mycenaean tomb at Koulika which were adorned with diverse kinds of vitreous colored stratum fused onto gold and silver.
The earlier embellishments of metal with glass relied more on cementing glass to the metal or mechanical fixing by clasps. Later, a craftsman in Cyprus learnt that the art of fusing vitreous color on metal was enameling, there was also a vast use of precious and semi precious stones combined with this form. This is when enameling came into existence. It was not only limited to jewelry but was used for painting, pottery, medallions, designing souvenirs or personalized accessories, etc. The skilled artistry of making enamel jewelry persisted through the middle ages, remaining largely a medium for working class and merchant class people for whom precious metals and stones were economically not practical. The essence of enameling was popular but gradually declined by late 19th century.
(1) smelzan is derived from german which means "to melt"
(2) Esmail is a French word which means "enamel" also known as "email".
(3) Mycenaean Period: The Mycenaean's lived during the late Bronze Age in Greece, from about 1600 to 1200 B.C. They are called Mycenaean's after their capital at Mycenae. The period in which they lived (Mycenaean), in ceramic terms is known as the Late Helladic period.
Unlike then, enameling has become more elegant and simple from past two decades. Enamel jewelry has the absence of precious and semi precious stones and also wide change of use of metals as today cheaper alternatives for these are looked on. It is more durable with the sealed and heat treated enamel covering, making it efficient to last longer. It also makes the per unit price much cheaper than the traditional jewelry.
In the present time enameling is no longer restricted to jewelry, embellished memento spoons or luxurious personal accessories. Massive Kilns4 to fire enamel onto sinks and bathtubs for that matter being even exterior walls of building, public spaces, not pervious to weather and resisting to ferocious cruelty.
Amongst the superior benefits that are enjoyed by present artist is the convenience to buy enamel in variety of forms. In the act of being compared with medieval enamellists who produced glass for every enamel in hand built wood heated furnaces, our alternatives are marvelous and suitable with more dissimilar and way to ahead to work with glass on metal.
Linda Darty, The Art of Enameling-Techniques, projects, inspiration, (Lark Books,2004), pp. 12.
Karen L. Cohen, The art of fine enameling, (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New YorkÂ ,2004) Foreword.
Ullmanns Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 5th Edition, (Wiley VCH; 17 Dec 1986), pp.60.
Types of enamel:
The type of enamel depends on the composition of glass, it can be divided into four types commercially i.e transparent, opaque, opalescent, over glazes or over painting enamels
Transparent enamel is capable of transmitting light, it is either very clear or can be a color.
(4) Kiln is oven used for firing enamels. Also used for hardening, burning or drying substances.
Opaque enamel is impenetrable by light hence blocks what is beneath, it has no luster.
Opalescent enamel exhibits milky iridescence5 and appears to be like an opal. They are rare than other enamels. Over glazes or over painting enamels are used in uncommon occasion for detail work. It is applied a pen or brush to an existing enameled layer that has been fired.
Linda Darty, The Art of Enameling-Techniques, projects, inspiration, (Lark Books,2004), pp. 10.
Kenneth F Bates, Enameling: Principles and practice, Chapter II, (The World Publishing company, 1951), pp.39- 40.
Techniques of enameling:
Enameling can be done using various types of technique. It could be an ancient technique which has its roots firm till today or a new discovery. Below are some types of technique commonly used by an artisans.
It is the oldest method of enameling, it is formed by binding bent metal wires to a metal surface, enamel is then put onto the surface of the metal that results into "cloisons." After being worked with enamel on the object it is then fired in a kiln. It can be done in copper, but contemporary cloisonné6 is very often done in silver or gold.
Fig: Belt-Buckle Created in japan, c.1900 (http://blog.myjewelrydeals.com/2009/01/enamel-jewelry.html)
(5) Iridescence - the state or condition of being colored like a rainbow or like the light shining through a prism.
(6) Cloisonné is a French word for "cloison" or "cell"
Guilloche7: It is the art of cutting of lines in a mechanical way on metal in a way to give rise to a design. As the pattern is engraved, the wave of light visible through the over coating of translucent enamel is enhanced and its quality of being brilliant is seen as the piece is moved from side to side.
Fig: Enameled watch created during 1840's (http://blog.myjewelrydeals.com/2009/01/enamel-jewelry.html)
Plique-a-jour8: A method that exhibits similarity to miniature stained glass and having the quality of style of decoration .It is classified in two types:
Surface tension enamel: This technique can be done in two various styles, the first being pierced and the second style is filigree or skeletal framework.
Etched enamel: Also known as Shõtai-Jippõ9 in Japan, It is a very similar technique to that of cloisonné enameling. The backing is done with copper and sliver wires, but once the piece is completed the copper backing is etched off. As it has a open back it is very delicate.
Fig: American, circa 1900 in 14ktgold.
(7) Guilloche (gee-yoh-shay) French for "engine-turning."
(8) Plique-a-jour: French for "membrane through which passes the light of day" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
(9) Shõtai-Jippõ means crystallized cloisonné.
Basse Taille10: A technique in which artist creates a low-relief model in metal, customarily silver or gold, by engraving or chasing. The whole design is produced in a way that its highest point is lower than the encircled metal. The translucent enamel is then applied to the metal, permitting light to reflect from the relief and giving an artistic effect.
Stenciling: In this technique a material is used to cut into a design such as paper, through which the enamel is applied to or removed from the metal. In this manner, the "holes" that are cut can be worked on as either positive or negative space of design.
Torch-Fired: In this method a torch is used to replace a kiln as the heat source.
Karen L. Cohen - The art of fine enameling, (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New YorkÂ ,2004) PP 9 - 12
Process, Tools & Materials:
The process of enameling completely is dominated by the artist-craftsperson, and this is the most alluring appearance of the art.
Materials used to compound an enamel:
Silica: Silica or sand is colorless when pure. It has number of strange qualities, one of it is when it is heated with soda, magnesia, potash and lime or oxides of lead or iron it melts and becomes a mass of glass or slag. Potash or soda and lime with a proper combination of silica produces clear glass. Presence of iron or lead oxide adds a slight color to the glass.
(10) BasseTaille is a french word which means "low cut"
Oxide of lead: The presence of oxide11 of lead determines the softness and hardness of enamel. If the proportion of lead of oxide is high it produces soft enamel. It is important that the melting point of enamel should be lower than the metal on which it is placed. The only drawback of soft enamel would be that it can be damaged easily.
Borax: The enamel created by borax is softer but has an supplementary benefit as it allows the enamel to combine easily with the oxides of various metals, which help enamel to achieve its color. The occupancy of too much borax decreases the stretchiness of enamel.
Potash and soda: Potash and soda are both alkalis consumed to manufacture enamels. Potash is the partly used component in enamels that bring out the bright, polished, sparkling effect.
Oxides of metal: Oxides of metal ate used to add to basic enamel which is known as flux to obtain various shades of enamel.
Shades of blue can be obtained by adding black oxides of cobalt.
Turquoise and shades of green can be gained by the addition of oxides of copper.
Red, either opaque or transparent, can be acquired from gold oxide.
Other colors can be brought into existence by adding oxides of platinum for grays, oxides of uranium and antimony for yellow, manganese for purple, oxides of tin for white.
Kenneth F Bates, Enameling: Principles and practice, Chapter II (The World Publishing company, 1951), pp.41-42.
(11)Oxide derived from the French "oxygene" It means a compound of oxygen and other element or radical.
Tools: The tools that can be used for enameling techniques are wide but there is a set of items which can be commonly used.
Safety & protection
Dust /particle mask
Cleaning abrasives-polishing stones or sand paper
Fiberglass brush or scrubbing pad
Pickling tools - pickle pots, warm & cold pickle solution, copper tongs
Application tools - sifter, paintbrush, spatula
Enamels, overglazes & underglazes
Holding agent - water based known as gum binder or gum tragacanth
Oil based agents include oil of lavender, thinning oil and
Firing supports - trivets and screens
Tools for handling hot items - firing fork, heat resistant gloves, heat resistant tiles, stainless steel test tube tongs,
Paper towels, tissues & cotton swabs
Karen L. Cohen, The art of fine enameling, (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York, 2004), pp.13- 17.
Linda Darty, The Art of Enameling:Techniques, projects, inspiration (Lark Books,2004), pp.14 - 17.
The art of enameling is not difficult. It is a challenging art which demands careful attention to such details as cleaning, application and firing. In my opinion a technical process such as enameling becomes as "easy" or "hard" to do as the one doing it for himself. An artist only works with an idea in his mind, that is, to complete his work to his own satisfaction and present the piece of work in a way that he may be free to start the next project.
In this age of rapid movement, we can experiment with different types of enameling and make variety of extraordinary projects. Handmade enamels by craftsman purely reflect an attempt to beat the machine at its own game. Enameling is as modern as it is ancient, we should remember that original thinking and adventurous experimentation in this field can develop beautiful, heart touching designs and jewelry.