The Cloisonné Process: Making Beads, Pendants and Objects of Art
by Doreen, Manager, Product Management Group, Exclusive for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®
Researchers agree the cloisonné technique originated in Egypt prior to 1800 B.C., beginning with gold ornaments inlaid with small pieces of genuine gemstones. Speculation is that eventually goldsmiths and glass workers collaborated to imitate these works using pieces of colored glass substituted for stones.
It is believed that the technique reached China through missionaries from central Asia sometime in early to mid-14th Century A.D. Shortly after its introduction, the Chinese made cloisonné enameling a truly distinctive art form by mastering the skill of manufacturing and constantly improving the technique. The main reason for their stunning achievement is due to the fact that the Chinese nation already had the technology, such as casting, glass and glaze production, enabling the artisans to accurately control the firing and temperature for the enameling process.
The word cloisonné is a French word meaning to be compartmentalized or be cut off from one another. The word cloisonné is used to identify the technique, as well as the finished product. A similar technique is filigree - where wires are soldered in patterns to a background. Another variation is plique a jour, known as backless cloisonné.
Shaping and soldering on of enamel cell shapes in patterns covering surface . The wires used are made of copper.
Initial fill of cells with multiple colors of enamel, fire in kiln. Each step is created by an artisan in that expertise.
When firing, the enamel contracts, so more color fill is needed - 3 to 4 times until the surface is even, smooth and without depressions. The enamel here still looks glossy.
Sand and polish surface so level and uniform. Cells and enamel should look melded into one. You'll notice the finish is dull at this point. It still must be polished.
Polish... and Coat with electro-plating medium as prep for metallic accenting. Electroplate outer portion of cells and any other desired areas.
Final polish and cleaning. A bead can take 5 hours from start to finish. Something like the vessel can take a week.
Quality cloisonné must have colors that are glossy and bright, a body that is sturdy and wire inlay that is neat and well proportioned.
Making Cloisonné Beads
Cloisonné beads are created by skilled artisans. Each cloisonné bead can take up to four hours to produce. Dozens of tiny cells are soldered to the bead's surface, then filled with four layers of enamel, and fired after each filling. Then each bead is polished, revealing intricate and beautiful designs. Since each bead is handmade, colors and styles may vary.
First a copper base is cast; design is sketched.
Brass wire cells are then soldered to the surface to form a pattern.
Enamels are then painted in the cells and fired for the first time.
Enamels are then filled in the uneven spaces and fired the second time.
Repeat filling enamels and fire the third time until every filled-in space becomes smooth.
The surface is then ground smooth and polished.
Finally, the cells are gold or silver plated.
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