The art of embellishing jewelry with glazed or enameled techniques dates back to antiquity. Whether to add vivid color in place of costly gemstones or to embellish intricately sculpted elements, the painstaking process of enameling defies the modern concept of speedy, efficient production.
The December 4 and 5 Important Jewelry auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers features a fascinating cross-section of enameling history, dating back to its forbearers in ancient Egypt to modern masters like David Webb.
Some of the earliest examples of enamel are more similar to glazed pottery than the enamel work we recognize today. Egyptian faience, dating from at least the 14th century B.C., used a more porous material than glass, as seen in this “eye of Horus” motif necklace.
The Northern Indian tradition of Meenakari dates to the Mughal period (1526-1707). The style is well known for accenting gold and silver with vivid colors of enamel over engraved metal, often in flora and fauna motifs, as seen in an enameled bead necklace accented with emerald beads, rose cut diamonds and rubies.
Enamel as an art form has thrived and expanded during several periods in European history. During the 1880s through the turn of the century, jewelry aesthetics emulated the earlier Renaissance Era. “Renaissance Revival” gave birth to jewelers such as Castellani and Giuliano. An incredibly intricate gold, silver, multi gem and polychrome enamel pendant signed by Castellani is from this revival period.
Not long after the Renaissance Revival, the Art Nouveau movement arose. Arguably the pinnacle of enamel work in Europe, the period saw the rise of plique-à-jour (which translates to “letting in daylight”), a technique where enamel is applied and fired without a solid backing. Similar methods were previously utilized in the Byzantine Empire and Japan. The technique creates a stained glass effect as seen in an Art Nouveau gold, pearl and plique-à-jour enamel pendant.
Using enamel over complex guilloche engraving has been growing in popularity for decades. Often seen on the dials of the finest Swiss timepieces used by famed maisons such as Bulgari, expert artisans can create alluring jewels with this skill. An 18 karat yellow gold, diamond, ruby and polychrome enamel twin Chimera bracelet showcases a mastery over numerous translucent and brightly hued enamel colors applied to a textured metal base.
Known for his flamboyant and whimsical jewels, the more contemporary David Webb helped build his impressive legacy by incorporating exquisite enamel work in his offerings. His sharp jewel toned necklaces, worn by movie stars and celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor, Helen Mirren and Jackie Kennedy, are still coveted today. Rather than focusing on the more subtle and elegant methods of an earlier time, Webb used translucent and opaque enamels across a wide color spectrum to produce bold statement jewelry such as this necklace and bracelet pair.
The December 4 and 5 Important Jewelry auction allows one to study and experience enamel through the ages. From ancient Egypt to David Webb, this collection honors the age-old tradition and artistry behind the use of enamel in jewelry making.