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When I think of enamel jewelry, I think of my grandmother. She had these lovely, cream colored earrings with golden lines, shaped like leafs. Now I know that they were Guilloche, but sadly I don’t know what happened to them after she died, at the age of 99.
Enameled jewelry is still in fashion, although not to the extent that it was in the early 20th century.
However it is by no means a modern form of jewelry. Actually it dates back to ancient Egypt, which is not so strange, since they invented glass. Now, to be accurate, the Egyptians did not make true enamel, but used glass mosaic embedded in gold and merged the two materials with the use of heat. True enamel dates back to the 4th century BC in Greece. So it is a technique that has been polished to perfection during thousands of years.
But what on earth is enamel jewelry?
Deriving from the word smeltzen in old German and esmail in old French (which means to melt), the term enamel was changed at a later point of time to the name it has today; smalto in Italian, email in French and German and enamel in English.
Enamel is the fusion between a special powdered glass that is allochromatic and usually consists of quartz sand, iron oxide, potassium oxide (pot ash) and borax (flux). This mixture forms a colorless fondant when fired at temperatures between 700 and 900 degrees Celsius. The temperature decides how transparent and durable the enamel will be. Higher temperatures give more durable and harder glass with high translucency. How transparent the glass will be is also dependent on the metal oxides that exist in the glass, which also decides the color of the glass.
The mixture is thoroughly crushed to powder and washed to remove impurities, and the fondant is ready to be used as enamel. The fondant is applied onto a metal base, which is prepared according to the type of enamel jewelry you want to make. The base is usually copper, but silver, gold and other metals and alloys can also be used. The fondant is allowed to dry completely, and when dry the piece is placed in a kiln or a furnace to melt the fondant.
The fondant shrinks when melted, so the procedure must be repeated up to several times to achieve the wanted result.
There are three degrees of enamel:
- Opalescent (translucent)
- And Opaque
But just adding the glass onto metal and heat it, will of course not give the most fabulous and artistic effect, so naturally there are several techniques involved to create these beautiful jewelry pieces. Follow the links below, and you can read all about them.
The most known enameling techniques:
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