Enamelling became part of a gold and silversmiths’ work during the fourth to the seventh century, and became of great significance to Byzantine goldsmiths’ work when Christianity became the religion of the State. Enamels have been used ever since, and there are various different techniques of enamelling available:
Champlevé: this involves cutting out spaces on a plate of metal and then filling in with powdered enamel. The piece is then fired, filed down and then polished. This is one of the simplest forms of enamelling, and specimens such as King Alfred’s jewel were enhanced in this way.
Cloisonné: this process is similar to champlevé although the spaces are made using gold or silver wire, or by soldering hard brass onto the metal, which is usually copper. The enamels are applied as a paste. The piece is then fired and rubbed with stones to give a smooth surface. The finest pieces are hand polished.
Pliqué à Jour: this technique was developed in France and Italy in the fourteenth century and was used for making vessels and jewellery; this method produces extremely delicate pieces. The process involves soldering individual wires or delicate strips of metal together to form an open framework in which to hold the enamels.
Enamelling is a permanent and versatile process, making it the most suitable decoration for fine metalwork. The enamel itself gives a gem-like quality to the metal it adorns, creating beautiful results.