Enamelling Silver: Plique-à-jour
In my previous two blogs, Enamelling Silver: Cloisonné and Enamelling Silver: Champlevé, I discussed the enamelling techniques of cloisonné and champlevé. In this final blog I will explain the enamelling technique known as plique-à-jour.
Plique-à-jour is a very difficult and often time consuming technique of enamelling which can potentially take several months for a single item to be completed. Generally speaking, the plique-à-jour technique is very similar to cloisonné except that the backing which the enamel is initially applied to is only temporary. Once the object has been fired, the backing is then carefully removed with either the application of acid or by gently rubbing it away. This leaves the transparent coloured enamels suspended in the metal framework and produces the effect of miniature stained glass. Hence the term plique-à-jour is used.
In understanding both the European and Russian methods of producing plique-à-jour, it is worth mentioning both techniques. Although visually the end product in virtually identical, the processes are different.
A design is created using either gold or silver wire which is applied to the metal object. These wires are typically either twisted or engraved with micro patterns and are solded together. The coloured enamels are then applied to each separated cell. However, as opposed to completely filling the cells and then firing the object, the process of firing the enamels is typically repeated up to 15 or 20 times in order to completely fill each compartment.
Western European plique-à-jour
As opposed to soldering wires together, a sheet of either gold or silver is pierced and cut with a design, leaving empty cells to be filled with the enamels.
History and makers
Although the plique-à-jour technique can be traced as far back as the 6th century AD during the Byzantine Empire, due to the very delicate nature of plique-à-jour, very little produced prior to the 19th century has remained. Hence the vast majority to be found only dates as far back as the late 19th century when the technique was revived through the production of silver objects, tableware and antique jewellery. In this context, there are a few important names to bear in mind that produced some exceptionally fine examples during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Europe: The French Art Nouveau artists René Lalique and Eugène Feuillâtre, the Norwegian jewellers David Andersen and J. Tostrup based in Oslo, Sweden and Martin Hummer in Bergen, Norway.
Russia: Ivan Khlebnikov, Pavel Ovchinikov and various master workers for Fabergé.
If you have any enamelled silver you would like to have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe of Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.