Black Materials

Black Materials

Here is an overview of the different black materials used in vintage and antique jewellery.

 

JET

Jet is fossilised wood. For more information see here.

jetbead

Simple jet bead circa 1910. Elder and Bloom.

ONYX

Onyx is a variety of chalcedony. For more information, see here.

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Victorian Onyx pendant locket. Elder and Bloom.

BERLIN IRON

Berlin iron is made from cast iron and delicate wire pieces. For more information, see here.

 

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Germany, Cast iron earrings. c. 1820-1830 V&A Museum

ENAMEL

Enamel is fired ground glass. In theory, almost all methods of enamelling can produce black items but generally it is en grisaille, niello and taille d’epargne which are known for being worked in black. (Technically, niello work is not true enamel but is usually classified as such)

For more information, see here.

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Niello work.

GUTTA PERCHA

Gutta Percha is a type of rubber derived from the gum of Asian trees. It is usually molded rather than carved and mould lines can be visible when examined carefully. When rubbed vigorously, it gives off an acrid, rubber smell. It is very flexible and durable and can produce a wide variety of jewellery items. Upon close inspection, you can see that it is actually brownish-black. Popular through the mid and late Victorian era, it made its debut at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

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Gutta Percha Brooch.

VULCANITE

Vulcanite is vulcanised India rubber formed using sulphur. It was first patented in 1844 by Charles Goodyear. Vulcanite is almost always moulded, as opposed to carved. It is actually white and can be dyed to produce a variety of colours, often in imitation of coral and tortoiseshell. Most commonly, however, it was dyed black and used in mourning jewellery as a substitute for jet. Over time, black vulcanite usually turns dark brown. It is lightweight and warm to the touch. It will develop a sheen with polishing but is never as glossy as jet. Like jet, it will leave a brown streak on porcelain or unglazed tile.

 

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Victorian Vulcanite cameo pendant.

FRENCH JET

French jet is black or very dark red glass. It can sometimes be backed with foil or attached to a metal setting but is most commonly found as beaded necklaces. It first made its appearance in the early part of the 19th century but came into its own in the 1860s when the techniques to produce it were perfected. It was produced in France, Germany, Austria, England and what is now the Czech Republic. It is cold to the touch and heavier than jet and has a distinctive glitter. Sometimes it is roughly moulded or carved to further simulate jet. Upon close examination, it can often be identified by tiny chips. If you gently tap it against your teeth, you should be able to identify the chink as glass.

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French jet necklaces. Elder and Bloom.

BOG OAK

Like jet, bog oak is fossilised wood. It is usually mined from the bogs of Ireland and is not necessarily oak but can be fir, yew or pine. Similar in feel to jet, it is lightweight and warm to the touch but generally has a more matte finish. It was used from the early 1800s and grew in popularity after 1852 when techniques involving heat and pressure were invented to mold it and create detail. It can be carved or moulded. It is generally found in mourning jewellery as a substitute for jet but can also often be found with Irish motifs in the form of souvenir jewellery.

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Victorian bog oak brooch.

TORTOISESHELL

With age, tortoiseshell can darken enough to appear black. See here and here.
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Tortoiseshell pique pendant. Elder and Bloom.

© Pippa Gaubert Bear and Elder and Bloom LLC, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pippa Bear and Elder and Bloom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Art Nouveau Enamel Pendant

Art Nouveau Enamel Pendant

I thought you may enjoy seeing this absolutely gorgeous gilded 800 silver cloisonné enamelled filigree pendant just in the Elder and Bloom Store.

If you are interested in learning more about enamel techniques in antique jewellery, you may enjoy these articles here.

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Telling the difference between Champlevé and Cloisonné enamel

Champlevé enamel and Cloisonné enamel can have a somewhat similar appearance and the two can be easily confused.

Cloisonné enamel is created by soldering fine wire to create the raised outlines of the design and generally no indentation is created in the metal base.  The spaces, or compartments, in-between the soldered wires are then filled with enamel, fired, filed and polished, leaving the wire borders uncolored. The name Cloisonné comes from the French word meaning ‘compartments’.

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Stunning example of Cloisonné. Middle Kingdom pectoral found in the tomb of Princess Sit-Hathor Yunet, the daughter of Pharaoh Senusret II, of the Middle Kingdom.

 

Champlevé enamel is created with indented areas which are carved or cast into the metal and then filled with the enamel.  After the enamel has been fired, the object is then filed and polished, leaving the non-indented areas without enamel.  The name Champlevé comes from the French word meaning ‘raised field’.  

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Beautiful example of Champlevé Enamel. Click on image to find out more about this lovely piece.

 

So, to sum up: Champlevé enamel is created with a single piece of metal whereas Cloisonné enamel is created with a metal base and soldered wire elements. It should be possible, upon close inspection under a loupe or magnifying glass, to tell if there are any joins or solder marks in the raised metal borders around the colored enamel and therefore distinguish which enamel technique it is.


 

Further reading:

http://pippatreevintage.com/category/enameling/

 

 

 

Exploring enamel techniques

In this post, I will show some examples of some (but by no means all) types of enamel work used in antique and period jewelry.  Please also see my previous post ‘Enameling Techniques of The Art Nouveau Period’.  What is really amazing to me is just how many different types of enamel techniques there are. I am sure there are many that I have missed here; I will try and add them to this post over time.

Cloisonné

In cloisonné the outlines of the design are the result of the tiny ‘cloisons’ or cells that contain the enamel.

These cells are shaped from thin gold strips.

Necklace

France, c. 1867
Cloisonné enamel and gold
V&A Museum

Cloak clasp

London, c. 1914
Gold with cloisonné enamel, cabachon sapphires, emeralds, pearls and seed pearls
V&A Museum

Foiled Enamel

In this technique, designs of translucent enamel are painted over foil to give an amazing effect.

Pendant - Cupid the Earth Upholder

Scotland, c. 1902
Foiled enamel, gold, glass pendant
V&A Museum

Plique à jour

This kind of enamel work is created with no metal backing, hence the translucent and stained glass like effect of the end result.

Hair ornament

Belgium, c. 1905-1907
Hair ornament, gold, plique-a-jour enamel, diamonds and rubies
V&A Museum

Bracelet

Paris, c. 1875
Bracelet, translucent and plique-à-jour enamel in gold openwork, set with pearls and rose-cut diamonds
V&A Museum

Bressan Enamels

These kinds of enamels came from Bourg-en-Bresse in France during the 19th century.  They were created with individual plaques of colorful enamel made with separate drops of colour and tiny shapes made from gold leaf.  These plaques were set in jewellery as if they were precious stones, often with a tiny stone in the center of the plaques.

Cross

France, c. 1870
Silver-gilt filigree with Bressan enamels and coloured pastes
V&A Museum

Ronde-Bosse Enamel

This type of enamel is when a small, three dimension figure is created by enameling a framework of gold or silver or wire.

Necklace

France, c. 1890
Figures of enamelled gold (ronde-bosse enamel), with a central baroque pearl, set with table-cut diamonds and a cabochon ruby, and hung with a pendent pearl
V&A Museum

Basse-Taille Enamel

Basse-taille is created by engraving the design into the metal, usually gold or silver.  The entire piece is then covered in translucent enamel so that the engraved low relief design shows through.

Bracelet

Paris, c. 1850
Bracelet, enamelled gold set with pearls
V&A Museum

Taille d’épargne

In this enamel technique, designs are engraved in the metal and then filled with enamel, usually blue or black.

Bracelet

England, c. 1862
Bracelet, gold, enamel, rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds, pavé-set turquoises, half-pearls
V&A Museum

Painting with enamel

This is when the enamel is applied to the metal in the same way an artist would apply paint.

Ring

Paris, c. 1870
Enameled gold ring with diamonds
V&A Museum

Ring

Austria, c. 1725-1775
Painted enamel copper ring
V&A Museum

En Resillé

In this type of enamel work, the design is incised on rock crystal or glass paste and the incisions lined first with gold and then with opaque or translucent enamel.

Locket

Europe, c. 1850-1900
Locket, enamelled gold (émail en résille sur verre)
and baroque pearl
V&A Museum

Camaieu 

This is a technique where a monochromatic image is created using layers of white and grey. Usually used in snuffboxes etc.

Box

Switzerland, late 18th century.
Gold decorated with brown camaieu enamel, surrounded by a border of seed pearls.
V&A Museum

En grisaille

This is a technique where a monochromatic image is created using a black background. Usually used in snuffboxes etc.

Pair case

London, 1780
Enameled gold box
V&A Museum 

Niello

Niello is usually classified as a kind of enameling technique although it is not a true enamel.  Instead of the powdered glass enamel, a mixture of sulphur, lead, copper and silver is used.  The design is engraved in the metal and then the mixture is applied.  The piece is then fired.  When it is polished, all of the mixture is removed apart from that which is left inside the engraving.  The result is always black; niello looks different from black enameling because it doesn’t have the same glassy effect and is more metallic seeming.

niello

Enameling techniques of the Art Nouveau period

Enameling is one of the most expressive and stunning techniques for creating jewelry.  It was used extensively during the Art Nouveau period (1890-1910).  An endless array of  colorful and intricate designs were created by applying the enamel in a variety of ways which have become very much associated with the period.  Thanks to enamel’s hard wearing qualities, there are many surviving enameled pieces from the era for us to enjoy.

Enamel is created from silica, quartz, borax, lead and feldspar ground together into a fine power (basically, it is powdered glass). Metal oxides in powder form are then added to produce the colors.  This mixture is then fired at a very high temperature, resulting in the gorgeous, rich colors of enamel work with which we are familiar.  The metals that the enamel work are fired on must be able to withstand such high temperatures. A large amount of time and care is required on the part of the jeweler.  Enamel work truly showcases the jeweler’s artistry perhaps more than any other technique. Enameled jewelry from the Art Nouveau era is highly prized and collectible (and there are of course many replicas.)

There were six main methods of enamel work that were popular in the creation of Art Nouveau pieces.  These were as follows:

Cloisonné

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Art Nouveau Cloisonne enamel and glass piece with bird motif

Cloisonne is created by soldering or arranging fine gold or silver wire onto another metal to create a design.  The main metal it is soldered onto is often copper or bronze in the case of cloisonne, but it can also be gold or silver.  The enamel powder is then used to fill in the partitions created by the wires.  As the enamel tends to shrink when fired, often several firings are required.  At the end, the enamel is sanded to be level with the wire.

Plique-à-jour

Plique-à-jour enamel with small rose-cut diamonds in the veins c1900 by Louis Aucoc (1850-1932)

Plique-à-jour is the type of enamel work which most people think of when they think of Art Nouveau jewelry.  It is the most delicate method of enameling and tends to fetch the highest prices.  It is remarkable because the enamel is created with no metal backing, hence the translucent and stained glass like effect of the end result.  To achieve this, the enamel mixture is made to be very viscous.  Sometimes a thin mica or clay backing is used and then removed after the firing.  Thin metal, which burns away during firing, can also be used.  Plique-à-jour looks truly stunning when held up to the light. Plique-à-jour means ‘letting in the day’ in French.

Champlevé

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Art Nouveau open work Champlevé button
Champlevé enamel work is created by first making cut out hollowed designs in the metal.  These hollowed out places are then filled with the enamel mixture and fired.  This is repeated as many times as necessary and then polished.  Copper and brass bases are often used with Champlevé as well as gold and silver. Champlevé means ‘raised field’ literally in French.

Basse-taille

Basse-taille button

Basse-taille is created by engraving the design into the metal, usually gold or silver.  The entire piece is then covered in translucent enamel so that the engraved low relief design shows through. Different effects can be created by adding different amounts and colors of enamel in different locations. Basse-taille literally means ‘shallow cut’.

Niello

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Art Nouveau Niello detail

Niello is usually classified as a kind of enameling technique although it is not a true enamel.  Instead of the powdered glass enamel, a mixture of sulphur, lead, copper and silver is used.  The design is engraved in the metal and then the mixture is applied.  The piece is then fired.  When it is polished, all of the mixture is removed apart from that which is left inside the engraving.  The result is always black; niello looks different from black enameling because it doesn’t have the same glassy effect and is more metallic seeming.

Taille d’epargné

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Taille d’épargne detail

Taille d’épargne was popular in the mid 1800s but was also used by Art Nouveau jewelry artisans.  The design was cut deeply into the metal and then filled, fired and polished.  Although any color can be used for the enamel, black or blue was generally favored. Taille d’épargne means “sparing cut” literally in French.

I hope this article helped give you an overview of the six different enameling techniques that were used in the creation of Art Nouveau jewelry and will be useful to you when you are identifying antique jewelry.  I will certainly be talking much more about antique enameled jewelry in the future as there is much to say about these stunning pieces.