The Vitreous Enamel Process

Vitreous enamel or porcelain enamel is the name given to glass bonding to a metal surface by fusion. A wide range of colors are produced by incorporating certain elements to the glass, mostly transition metals.

History

There is no evidence on how or where vitreous enamel making started, the earliest known articles are six enameled gold rings dating from the 13th century BC discovered in a Mycenaean tomb at Kouklia, Cyprus.

The Greeks were enameling as early as the 5th century BC. Julius Caesar found the Celtic inhabitants of Britain enameling in the 1st century BC.

During the Byzantine era (4th through 12th centuries) many enamel religious works were made. In Limoges, France the use of enamel painting technique was perfected in the 15th Century.

China’s earliest enamel works date from the 14th century, enameling was introduced in the area by the Muslims. Japan began enameling in the mid 1800’s with high quality results.

In the second half of the 19th century Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé captivated Europe with his fantastic enameled eggs.

Vitreous Enamel Different Techniques

The glass used to enamel is crushed to a powder finer than granulated sugar and coarser than flour. Different elements especially metals are added to the glass to color it. This colored glass powder is then bonded to a metal surface, usually copper, silver or gold by fusion. The enameled metal piece is fired between 1000° to 1600° F in a kiln.

After 1 to 10 minutes, the piece is removed and cooled down to room temperature. Subsequent coats, or the adding of different colors, are applied. 10 to 20 firings are required to get the desired results. When ready the piece is polished.

The process mentioned above is the same for every enameling technique, what varies is the way the metal surface is prepared to receive the enamel or how the enamel is applied to it.

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