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.
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.
|Details of Japanese enameled vessels from the collection of Stephen W.Fischer.|
|Fetish pin by William Harper|
|Pendant by William Harper|
|Pin by Jamie Bennet|
|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|
|Ruth Ball Design|
Appreciation of it in South Africa appears to be limited at present, but with growing awareness of art and design, that could change.