A short history of enamelling.
The word enamel comes from the High German word “smelzan” which later became “esmail” in Old French. Hence the current usage of “smalto” in Italian, “email” in French and German and “enamel” in English.
Enamelling is a vitreous, glass like glaze fused on to a metallic base by intense heat to create a brilliantly coloured decorative effect. It is an art form noted for its brilliant, glossy surface, which is hard and long-lasting. The term is also used for the application of decorative fusible glass applied to glass objects.
A brief history of enamelling. The earliest known enamelled objects were made in Cyprus in around the 13th century BC during the Mycenaean period. Six gold rings discovered in a tomb at Kouklia were decorated with various vitreous coloured layers fused on to the gold. These together with a gold sceptre and orb decorated with white pink and green are the earliest known pieces of enamel and can be found in the Nicosia museum in Cyprus.
There is a long gap between the Mycenaean enamels and the Greek gold jewellery of the 6th–3rd centuries BC, which is sparingly enamelled, often having no more than touches of blue and white enamel.
The most dramatic development in the history of enamelling took place in the Byzantine Empire between the 6th and 12th centuries, a period during which only the cloisonné technique was used. This method consists of soldering to a metal surface delicate metal strips bent to the outline of a design and filling the resulting cellular spaces, called cloisons with vitreous enamel paste almost exclusively executed on gold. In China cloisonné was widely produced during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911/12) dynasties.
Later, enamelling would experience a cultural resurgence in the 20th century. The Art Nouveau and fine jewellers took an interest in the bright, durable colours for decorating pendants and rings and Faberge used the technique to adorn his luxury Easter eggs.