The traditional enamelling process, in simple terms, is the fusing of tiny glass particles with heat to form a solid layer of colour onto a metal background. It can be matte, shiny, opaque or translucent, and comes in a wide selection of colours and finishes. There are a number of different jewellery enamelling techniques that can be used to actually apply the enamel, a selection are listed below:
- Cloisonné – Cloisonné enamelling techniques use thin wires to create separate sections on a metal backing, which are then filled with different colours of enamel. The wires remain visible in the finished piece.
- Champlevé – The champlevé enamelling process involves the carving or etching of troughs into the metal surface, which are then filled with enamel. The remainder of the metal design stands proud, leaving the enamel decoration to the indented design.
- Painted Enamel – Painted enamel is exactly that, and utilises the enamel as a painting medium in the place of any other artist’s material. This technique requires an exceptional level of skill.
- Plique A Jour – Plique A Jour uses the same enamelling technique as Cloisonné by using metal wires to create individual cells. The only difference between the two being that this enamelling process does not use any backing, allowing the light to shine directly through the enamel – similar in effect to stained glass windows.
Tiny particles of enamel can be used dry as a powder which is often sieved onto the metal surface, or wet as a paste or liquid, which is created by adding a binder (such as an organic gum) that can then applied with a fine brush. Particles must be ground to an ultra-fine consistency with a pestle and mortar, and thoroughly washed with distilled water at regular intervals to keep everything scrupulously clean. The method used depends on your skill level and also the desired end result, but I would suggest that beginners attempt either Cloisonné or Champlevé in the initial instance.
Traditional enamelling jewellery techniques must involve a kiln fire, as they require extremely hot and stable temperatures to fuse. Different colours require different temperatures, but as a guide it can be anything between 700 and 950°C. However, if you feel you are not yet ready to attempt traditional jewellery enamelling techniques at this stage, there are ranges of low temperature enamels that are now available which emulate the look of the real thing, without the extensive preparation or firing to produce the end result.
Efcolor produce a range of low-temperature, resin-based enamel powders which can be fired in a conventional oven at approximately 150°C. Each container of powdered colour can be sifted using sieve tops, so it can be applied directly onto your metal surface with minimal effort. Another way of achieving an ‘enamelled’ finish is to use epoxy enamel or cold enamel, which is essentially a two-part resin, cured using a hardening agent combined with the colour. Once mixed, these colours will start to dry in 45 minutes and will be totally dry in 24 hours, without the need for any firing.
The beauty of these jewellery enamelling technique alternatives is that they can be applied to materials other than metal – including wood, glass and even cardboard – so they offer great versatility if you are interested in mixed media pieces. They also offer a range of entry points for people at every skill level, making the jewellery enamelling process much more accessible as a technique.
If you want to start adding a touch of colour to your creations, then why not give some of these enamelling jewellery techniques a try? No matter what your preferred technique, you will find what you need to get started in Cooksongold’s extensive range of enamelling supplies and, for an extra helping hand, why not browse our selection of enamelling books?