Precious gems are expensive, so when ancient artisans discovered they could grind glass to fine particles and make a colorful substitute, enamel became a popular and less expensive element of fine jewelry design. People were so enamored with enamel, in fact, that the technique has survived to modern times, with today’s jewelry artists able to custom mix hundreds of colors that they use in intricate designs. Lalique is particularly noted for its enamel work, and enamel is seen often in men’s jewelry because of its ability to effect bold designs.
Like tooth enamel but far more visually appealing, enamel in jewelry is a protective coating, but one that is also susceptible to chips and cracks. To make enamel, ground glass is made into a paste, then fused to metal with intense heat. The temperature and the metal oxides are what determines the color and translucence in the resulting design. When higher temperatures are used, the enamel is stronger.
Enamel is also popular because of its versatility. It can cover all shapes and create infinite designs on pins, charms, earrings, pendants, and bracelets, and you’ll find countless examples when you shop for jewelry in South Florida. Because it’s been perennially popular, you’ll see lots of enamel on vintage designs—particularly from times when money was tight—and, because vintage is all the rage (e.g. Limoges), you’ll see lots of enamel in pawn shops in Fort Lauderdale. We love it at National Pawn and Jewelry!
If you fall in love with enamel jewelry and bring it home, remember that you should always clean it by soaking it in warm soap water for up to ten minutes, then using a soft cloth—one without lint—to gently rub off any debris, then dry, and wear.