Enameling is the art of melting ground glass (known as “enamel”)
onto metal. First, clear enamel (known as “flux”) is melted (“fired”)
in a kiln on fine silver or copper. Thin layers of enamel are then
fired individually for maximum clarity. The artist chooses clear or
transparent colors, opaque, semi-opaque or opalescent colors,
depending on the desired effect. Colors can be mixed and blended
like paint and layered upon one another. This is reminiscent of the
way transparent layers of paint were built up in Renaissance oil
paintings. Incredibly rendered detail was achieved because the
viewer could see through the many layers of color and shadow. The
enameling process includes many techniques; three of the most glorious
are cloisonne, limoges and plique-a-jour.
Cloisonne enamel is composed of colors separated by tiny wires.
Once the flux is fused on the metal, flat wires of gold, silver or
copper are bent and shaped by hand, placed on the flux and the
flux is reheated in the kiln to hold the wires in place. Next, many thin
layers of enamel are rinsed with water to enhance clarity, then
applied to the piece with a paintbrush and fused, one at a time, in
the kiln. This must be done gradually to maintain clarity and purity
Limoges enamel is like a painting made of glass. The enamel is
applied wet with a paintbrush, as in cloisonne, but there are no
wires to separate the colors.
Plique-a-jour enamel is like a miniature stained glass window: the
enamel is fused within a network of wires or into the holes pierced in
a sheet of metal. This is probably the most technically challenging
of the enameling techniques.
It is easy to appreciate an enamel with wonderful depth and
character that can last for centuries. It glows like a gem, it is alive
with color and the imagery is rich and compelling.