Enamelling is the process of fusing a special type of glass to metal at high temperatures. It is an ancient craft and was used historically as a substitute for precious stones on jewellery and metal objects. The history of enamelling and the development of enamel as a medium through ancient times is captivating, and is of stark contrast to today's means.
Contemporary enamellists can purchase vitreous enamel from a number of commercial companies who specialise in its manufacture. Existing in both lead-containing and lead-free forms, enamel may be transparent, opaque or opalescent, which are terms describing how much light shines through the enamel to the metal surface underneath.
For health and safety considerations, I choose to use Thompson Lead-free Enamel. Prior to use, the enamel must be cleaned by washing with distilled water to remove any impurities leftover from the manufacturing process. Also before enamelling, the metal surface must be cleaned and free of any residual grease to ensure the enamel properly fuses to the metal. My metal of choice for enamelling is fine silver as I love the effect of the fine silver when coupled with transparent enamel.
There are a number of different enamelling techniques. I specialise in the art of cloisonne', champleve' and plique-a-jour enamelling methods. For each of these methods enamel is slowly built up in many layers, with subsequent firings in a kiln between each application. The distinguishing feature of these methods is that for both cloisonne' and champleve' enamelling, enamel is built up on an underlying metal surface, whereas for plique-a-jour enamelling, the enamel is built up within a framework of metal, much like a stained glass window. Patience and time are two qualities of enamellists as the best results are achieved when enamel is applied in many thin layers with up to twenty firings in a kiln for a single piece of jewellery. My kiln is a manual Paragon kiln, which is used at 800 degrees Celsius to fire the enamel.
I love the variety of colours available and each enamel has its own 'personality' which you get to know through experience of using the enamel. Unlike paint, enamel can not be mixed to create a new colour. Instead techniques of layering are used to create visual effects of shading and depth. To add further complexity to the process, enamels interact differently with each other, depending on their physical and chemical properties, and each enamel has its own optimal firing time and temperature.
It is the meticulous and precise nature of enamelling that draws me to this ancient craft.