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Enamelling Silver: Cloisonné

The process of decorating silver objects with colourful enamels has existed in England since the 12th century. However, the origins of enamelling metalwork items can be traced further back to the early Byzantine Empire mainly being found on religious objects and articles of jewellery.

Origin of cloisonné

There are three key silver enamelling techniques comprising of cloisonné, champlevé and plique-à-jour. In this first blog on enamelled silver, I aim to provide a basic grounding on the subject of cloisonné on silverwares.

Enamelling techniques

The first enamelling technique to be applied to silver was cloisonné. The word itself stems from the word ‘cloister’ originating from the Latin ‘claustrum’ meaning enclosure.

Cloisonné production process

The process of producing cloisonné decorated silver wares involved soldering silver or gold wire to the surface of the silver object to form patterns acting as the skeleton of the design. These patterns would comprise of small compartments to be filled with various colour enamels. With all of the compartments individually filled with various coloured enamels, the object would then be fired and through this process upon cooling fuse the enamel into the compartments.

Cloisonné revival

Although cloisonné was the first silver enamelling technique to be implemented, it was soon largely replaced by the champlevé technique. It wasn’t until the 19th century that cloisonné was revived in both England and abroad being used extensively on both functional and aesthetic objects. Of all cloisonné produced during this period, it is the Russian silversmiths and goldsmiths who spring to mind, the most prominent makers being the House of Fabergé of St Petersburg.

To read about other enamelling techniques, please see my blog Enamelling Silver: Champlevé and Enamelling Silver: Plique-à-jour

If you have any enamelled silver you would like to have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe of Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.