Robin Phillips Jewelry

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Cloisonné and Champlevé Enamel

cloisonne brooch

The term Cloisonné is derived from the French, cloisons, meaning "partitioned cells". Champlevé refers to a technique where a recess is made in the silver either by incising, etching or making a framework that is fused or soldered onto a fine (pure) silver plate. It is in this recess that the enamel is applied.

Enamel is finely ground glass, with various oxides added for colour. Enamel consistency is similar to very fine sand. The enamel is applied with a fine brush in very thin, individual layers, then dried, and fired in a kiln. This technique requires many, many firings to complete a piece.

Thin metal wires (cloisons) of either fine silver or gold are first bent into various shapes to separate the enamels from one another and to add to the internal design.

After the first thin layer of enamel is applied and dried it is ready to be kiln fired, somewhere around 790 - 810 degrees celsius.

Enamel colour does not blend together when it melts, it is the painstaking skill of the practitioner who by careful placement of each grain achieves the gradation of colour and appearance of depth.

The enamels continue to be built up and fired repeatedly until the colours become vibrant and there is a feeling of depth to the piece. Each large piece may be fired over twenty times. Unlike pottery, each piece is always fired on its own.

The piece then needs to be refined by removing any excess enamel that has covered the cloisons. Using a series of diamond files (from coarse to very fine) the piece is gently filed flat until the cloisons are revealed and the depth of the enamel is consistent and free from any scratches caused from filing.

The last firing gives the glassy finish enamels are known for. The final depth of the enamel is less than .9mm.

Enameling is a labour intensive art and not without risk, as silver has a relatively low melting point. The enamelist must be vigilant in order to ensure that the work is not lost during the firing process.

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