Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Fire and light



 jane mcilleron

One of the media available to jewellers is vitreous enamel. 

I have done very little enamelling, but it appeals to me: the possibilities for layering, and for variations in translucency, with completely transparent enamel allowing light to reflect off the metal underneath, and opaque obscuring it entirely.
Like any medium, it is as open to use in a multitude of ways, and I don't think there can be anyone who likes them all.

Enamel is glass that is fused onto metal by melting (firing) it. It may be opaque or transparent, or somewhere in between (opalescent). It is coloured by the addition of minute amounts of elements and compounds in careful combinations. The melting point of the glass has to be lower than that of the metal, and the relative melting points of the various enamels have to be taken into consideration when using more than one. The rate and extent at which the glass contracts as it cools has to be as close as possible to that of the metal it is fused to.

It is quite a demanding medium. It is relatively easy to enamel something flat in one colour, but every variation after that makes it more difficult. Most enamels are built up of numerous layers, each fired before the next is added.

Details of Japanese enameled vessels from the collection of Stephen W.Fischer.

 Enameling started many centuries ago, and examples are found from Mycenae and Egypt. In the last few decades of the 19th century and the first few of the 20th centuty Japan produced enamelled objects, mostly vessels, of extraordinary virtuosity, and at about the same time Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewellers in the West used it widely and with great skill. One the most famous artists from this time was Rene Lalique, in France.
Two of Lalique's magnificent pieces

Fetish pin by William Harper
Pendant by William Harper
A contemporary artist well known in the USA for his work in enamel is William Harper. He uses brilliant and complex arrangements of colour and texture, and incorporates stones, pearls and other materials in very interesting ways. His work is evocative of artifacts with esoteric purposes.

Pin by Jamie Bennet
Another prominent American in the field is Jamie Bennet, whose experimental enameling on three dimensional electroformed shapes attracted much attention.

Pin by Jamie Bennet

Although vitreous enamel is increasingly being replaced by "cold enamel" (actually epoxy resin) in commercial jewellery, because it is so much easier and less risky, contemporary enamel seems to be thriving in Europe and the USA.

Rattle Brooch by Angela Gerhard

Jessica Calderwood

Montse Basora

Ruth Ball Design

Sandra Zilker

Appreciation of it in South Africa appears to be limited at present, but with growing awareness of art and design, that could change.


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