If you take a look around AntiquesAvenue you will always see plenty of pieces of vintage enamel jewellery and now there are special collections dedicated especially to it. Just take a look at these enamel brooches for example. I love how the bright colours shine out from the jewellery and I’m not the only one. Enamel jewellery and accessories are now more collectable than ever before.
Enamel adds colour to jewellery. It is applied to the surface of a piece and gives a colourful glossy finish as it is made of a type of glass with added colouring. The enamel is melted onto the surface with heat. All sorts of materials can be given an enamel surface. In jewellery we see enamel applied to gold, silver, copper, glass and base metals in vintage costume jewellery.
What is enamel?
Enamel is a type of powdered glass which is then coloured with metal oxides and mixed with oils. This mixture is painted onto the metal background and fired in a low-temperature kiln. The mixture sets onto the metal and forms a wonderfully colourful and hard wearing finish that you see in the pictures in this article. This work can be highly artistic and carried out by the finest craftsman such as Faberge but at its simplest level, it is not beyond the home crafter with a basic kiln.
The blue and white you see to the left is enamelled in two simple colours but as you can see further down the enamels can be used like paints to create a picture.
Types of enamel
The most colourful techniques include Cloisonne, Guilloche, Plique du jour and Bas taille. Note the names are all in French, much great enamel work has come from France. I will come back to each of these in detail at some time in the future. Great enamel work was carried out in Russia and in Limoges in France. These days most of the English and Scandinavian jewellery we see is engine turned with the background metal being given a fancy pattern before the enamel is applied. Once fired the pattern shows through the colour.
History of enamel
Enamelling is known to have been carried out by the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks and throughout Europe from the 16th Century. The earliest enamels we tend to see outside of museums is the work carried out in Bilston and Battersea in the Georgian era. These were brightly enamelled little boxes were used to hold a small jewel, a patch or maybe pills. The original boxes are very collectable and you can expect to pay at least £100 for a plain one. The art of the Bilston and Battersea enamel companies has been revived in the UK since the 1970s – I am able to offer a few collectable enamelled boxes in my jewellery box section.
What’s Available today?
Looking at antique jewellery we see today the Georgians and Victorians used enamel in Mourning Jewellery especially rings and brooches – Black enamel often topped with words such as “In Memorium”. More colourful enamels can be seen on antique lockets with initials picked out in colour.
It was picked up by the arts and crafts movement who created some wonderful pieces. From the later 1800s to circa 1920 enamel jewellery was high fashion and you can find great examples if you look about. In the early 1900s enamel became extremely popular to add colour to art nouveau jewellery. Enamel was used by the great art nouveau jewellers including Lalique, Charles Horner, Murrle Bennett and Tiffany. Enamel was used on all types of jewellery and accessories, necklaces, earrings, pendants, belt Buckles, hat pins and buttons included. I like to have some enamel lockets from this time available for sale whenever I can.
Wearable enamel Jewellery
Some of the most wearable enamel jewellery has been made in Scandinavia. Look out for silver and enamel brooches. Designer names to look out for include David Andersen, M. Hammer and N. E From. As well as brooches we see lockets, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and charms which are brightly enamelled. Yesterday I say some belt buckles which I would have loved to buy had they not been so pricey. Enamel jewellery will retain its wonderful colour for many years ( permanently) and needs just the most basic of care – a wipe over with a damp cloth and a gentle polish with a dry one will retain its sparkle. The one thing to look out for is chipping the enamel. As it is glass it does not take to well to sharp knocks or being dropped onto a hard surface when the enamel can chip and crack. Other than this is it one of the most durable types of colourful jewellery.
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