What is Enamel?
Enamel is a kind of glass fused to metal at a high temperature, usually around 800 degrees Centigrade. The best metals are copper, silver and gold. Like glass the main ingredients are silica, lead, soda, potash and borax.
These form clear glass or flux. Adding 2-3% oxides of metals we have the different colours, e.g. oxide of cobalt gives blue, oxide of copper makes green, oxide of antimony yellow, tin for white and iridium for black.
Colours can be transparent, opaque or opalescent.
The procedure is as follows:
we take the metal and give it the form we wish with a hammer or other tools. The metal is heated and, when cool, placed in sulphuric or nitric acid to be thoroughly cleaned. Touching the metal with bare hands is avoided so that no grease is left on the surface. That is, like surgery, we use a "No touch" technique. We then take the enamel, in powder form or in lumps, crush it in a porcelain mortar with a pestle, and wash it with water very meticulously. The washed enamel is placed upon the metal object in very thin layers. When dry it is fired at about 800 degrees Centigrade, for 2-4 minutes, until fusion to the metal is effected. For enameling an object five, ten, fifteen or more firings may be needed with constant attention to detail at every stage. Many hours of hard work can be totally lost during firing in a matter of seconds.
According to the method of preparing the metal and application of the enamel various techniques have been described. The most important are:
Cloisonné: Each colour, on the metal surface, is surrounded by wire forming a cell [cloison]
Champlevé: The enamel is placed in groves within the metal, made either with a graver or an acid
Plique-à-Jour: Like a miniature stained glass window. The enamel is in openings made in the metal
Limoges: Painted enamel
When the surface is large, enamel is also placed at the back, a process known as counterenameling, to avoid cracking of the enamel. The coefficient of expansion of metal is greater than that of enamel. After firing, the metal contracts more than enamel and cracks are formed. By covering the back side with enamel we bring about a balance and thus avoid the danger.
Man has used enameling as a form of expression for thousands of years because enamel has colour, transparency, brilliance, hardness and resistance to acids and chemicals.
The technique of enameling is a highly skilled process that was first practised in Cyprus. In a Mycenaean tomb that was discovered at Kouklia, Cyprus, in 1952 and dated the 13th century B.C. Six gold rings were found decorated with cloisonné enamel that appears to have been fired before fusion.
The enamel work of Dr Michaelides is an attempt to bring about a revival of this ancient Cyprus craft at its own birthplace, reminding us that an elegant enamel is a piece of Art, beautiful, fascinating and representing what is best in value and skilled craftsmanship.
The best metals - Copper - Silver - Gold.
Mortar and Pestle.