MAKING

All things to nourish and replenish the new human in mind, body and spirit.

The Semiprecious

by Caroline B.

Enamels have long been used to decorate the surface of metal objects, perhaps originally as a substitute for the more costly process of inlaying with precious or semiprecious stones, but later as a decorative medium in their own right. Whereas paint on metal has a short life and, even when new, is overshadowed by the brilliance of the polished metal, enamelling gives the surface of metal a durable, coloured, decorative finish.

The origin of enameling can be traced to ancient times when vitreous (made from glass) enamels were used on and in metalwork. This practice reportedly enabled the artist to use glass in place of rare gemstones—for example, cobalt glass in place of lapis lazuli and a reddish/brown colour for garnets. Modern-day vitreous enamels can still be found in these original colours along with many others, expanding the artist’s palette.

There are two methods of applying enamel to metal: champlevé, in which hollows made in the metal are filled with enamel; and cloisonné, in which strips of metal are applied to the metal surface, forming cells, which are then filled with enamel.

Enamel is a comparatively soft glass, a compound of flint or sand, red lead and soda or potash. These materials are melted together, producing an almost clear glass, with a slightly bluish or greenish tinge; this substance is known as flux or frit—or, in France, fondant. The degree of hardness of the flux depends on the proportions of the components in the mix. Enamels are termed hard when the temperature required to fuse them is very high; the harder the enamel is, the better it will withstand atmospheric agencies, which in soft enamels first produce a decomposition of the surface and ultimately cause the breakup of the whole enamel. Soft enamels require less heat to fire them and consequently are more convenient to use, but they do not wear so well, especially if subjected to friction.

This form of ornamentation provides many possibilities for those willing to express their connection to the unlimited designs of nature and sacred symbolism.

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