Embracing Enamel 

How Jewelry Designers Are Taking It To The Next Level

By Jennifer McCurry

It's crazy to think that one of this season's hottest trends, enamel, originated as far back as the 13th century BC. Today's jewelry designers utilize ancient techniques and find new and creative ways to implement the medium into their collection. To understand the evolution of enamel we must first visit its origin.

How Enamel Was Born

The Mycenaean's were among the earliest metal smiths to incorporate enamel into jewelry, while the Greeks saw the importance of using the technique as an art form. Enamel is a paste-like coating made up of glass particles applied to metal or fused at high temperatures. For centuries to come, enamel would adorn jewelry, religious artifacts, and weaponry.

The Byzantines introduced cloisonne, a process by which enamel is separated by wire on a metal backing, in the 9th century AD. Germany expanded on the skill-set after being introduced by a Byzantine princess who married the German King Otto 11. The glass fusion process quickly spread through Western Europe, and French enameling techniques rose in popularity.

  Enameling Techniques

Champlevé, a French term meaning "raised field," is an inlay method used for religious themes and icons. The enamel fills etching in the metal, leaving the metal exposed. Plique-a-jour, French for "letting in daylight," is a unique process of hot enamel applied to cells with no backing. The enamel is transparent and reminiscent of stained glass windows.

During the 16th century, a new enamel painting method developed called Limoges, allowing colors to touch each other using separation. This method permitted enamellists to create more realistic scenes and portraits.

Taking It A Step Further

Modern enamellists created a platform for other aspiring students so they can learn the art of the craft. In the 1970s and 1980s, schools like the Kulicke Stark Academy of Jewelry Arts in New York City and The Enamellist Society provided enameling classes, workshops, conferences, and magazine publications. While there is more opportunity to learn the specialized skill-set, the enameling community is relatively small and remains so to this day. With modern technology, hot and cold enamel has advanced, and jewelry designers want in. Always searching for alternative ways to bring newity to a collection, jewelers welcome the opportunity to work with these trained specialists.

6 Designers Who Have Rediscover Enamel And Made It Their Own

This season, Lebanese designer Selim Mouzannar chose a range of colors from cobalt blue and black to pale grey and ivory enamel. His luscious, candy-like cocktail rings are some of his most exceptional pieces, and it's hard to collect just one. He frames soft colors around vivid stones such as rubellite, tanzanite, and aquamarine.

True to his Greek heritage, jewelry designer Nikos Koulis has revitalized the jewelry industry with his enamel techniques. There's a genius to his interpretation and how he plays tribute to art deco with a modern sensibility. The vast collection consists of black enamel cuffs sprinkled with geometric emeralds, rubies, and baguette diamonds and only get better with multiples. He also introduces translucent enamel giving the illusion of diamonds floating in a window frame. His vision is a unique and refreshing take on the genre.

Known for her opals and love of color, Kathrine Jetter felt it was the right timing to introduce enamel into her designs. "Enamel is a technique I've dreamt about working with for a long time. I finally got the chance to incorporate it into my collection and create my own proprietary colors to complement my favorite gems. This year, I launched my electric blue and pink enamel to accentuate the opals, tanzanites, and tourmalines in my 2020 collection." Even though the process can have its technical difficulties, Katherine was up for the challenge, finally mastering implementation on curved surfaces.

Sacred traditions of her Buddhist practice have always inspired Nancy Badia, founder of Buddha Mamma. The newest collection of 20k gold chunky link bracelets, faceted disco bead chains, and hamsa and evil eye pendants accented with new army green enamel. Like Badia's traditional black, white and grey enamel, army green is a neutral shade that works with fall fashion trends of olive, cinnamon, and brown.

Andy Lif's love of color, rare gemstones, and exemplary craftsmanship led him to partner with enamellists building his signature Plique-a-jour jewelry collection. Transparent enamel in teal, cobalt blue, and vivid pink gives new reasons to buy hoops and stack your rings. Each piece truly is like looking through little windows.

Newcomer Bea Bongiasca's collection is a visual wonderland of bright enamel and vivid gemstones. Her inspiration pays tribute to pop culture, where each piece is a sculptural piece of wearable art.

Modern jewelers are embracing various ancient techniques of enameling. With state-of-the-art technology and education, designers can close the gap between old world ingenuity and new age processes. The results are an endless array of colors, illuminating transparency, and smooth opaque texture.