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Champleve and Basse taille – Enameling techniques You Can Combine

Champleve means raised plane in French. It is a technique where the pattern is carved out of a metal plate and then the low areas are filled with enamel.

The base is quite rough and originally only opaque enamels are used. In the medieval they used a soft base-metal that was gilded when the piece was finished. The technique is suitable for covering large areas with enamel.

It resembles and was actually succeeded by Basse Taille, a technique used to create high quality Gothic works. Basse taille works are finer, the recesses are modeled and only translucent enamel is used.

Champleve work was often used to make icons, where the patterns were cut, gouged or etched out of the base metal. The lower areas filled with enamel, and the high parts were gilded with gold leaf.

While the Byzantines developed and refined Cloisonné, by soldering wires together in the Eastern world, Champleve were developed in the Western world by the Celts and started its tradition in Europe (ca 3rd century BC). In the beginning it was prominently used in Celtic art for geometric designs, but in time it was further developed by the pagan Anglo Saxons and the Vikings (my ancestors).

The technique had a new boost in the 1940s retro era, when it was used to create polychromatic necklaces and bracelets. The patterns were often scrolls and floral motifs. It co-existed with Guilloche which was becoming hugely popular, but was slowly outmaneuvered by Basse taille, which was more suitable and delicate for jewelry making.

Basse taille:
This technique is seen as a sophisticated version of Champlevé. It was developed in Italy in the 11th century. While the original technique was rough carving in relatively thick base metal, Basse taille used finer carvings and engravings. The work was of high quality and did not have to be covered with opaque enamel. Transparent enamels allowed the base metal and the fine engravings to show through, creating depth and variations in color as well as reflecting the light through the enamel.

In this sense Basse taille also resembles Guilloche enameling, where the pattern of the metal is engraved by a machine. But Basse taille is done by hand, not machine.

The photos on this side show how beautiful these two techniques can be when combined. The enamels used are transparent and you can clearly see the Basse taille engravings. You can see more of Rachel Emmersons beautiful enamel jewelry here:Rachel Emmerson

These two techniques are not the only enameling techniques there are that is usable for jewelry. You also have Cloisonnè, Plique-a-jour and Guilloche enameling. Just follow the links and you can read about them all.

You can make faux Champleve and Basse Taille with polymer clay. Se how in this tutorial:
Faux Enamel With Liquid Polymer Clay And Mica Powder

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How is champleve gilded? 
Hi, You mentioned after the piece was enameled it was gilded with gold leaf. How is that done? Sincerely, Terri

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