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History of Vitreous Enamel


According to some sources, the English word ´enamel` comes from Latin, French and German words. The French word ´émail` is derived from the Old High German word ´smelzen`, translating into English as ´to fuse or to smelt`. The direct interpretation of the German word would be ´fused mass` or ´fused glass` and the origins are from the Latin word ´smaltum`, the latter still in existence today in the Italian ´smalto`. ´An enamel` usually refers to a small decorative object with a vitreous enamel coating.

With it's origins dating back over 4000 years; enamelling is one of the oldest techniques known to man. The breast jewels of Pharaoh Amenemhet II (1837 - 1789 BC) are considered to be one of the oldest examples of enamelling.

Musee Chalons St Greg Enamel was initially used in combination with precious stones to set cameos, the art of enamelling reached Byzanthium via Greece and Rome.

In 774 when Charlemagne was crowned King of Italy he was wearing a golden circlet enamelled in green.

In 1204, Byzantine pieces reach the West following the 4th Crusade; among them where parts used for the ´Pala d´Oro`, the gold and enamel altar screen of St. Mark of Venice.

In the 12th Century, art schools in the Lower Rhine and Maas (Germany) and Siena (Italy) started creating large series of master pieces. The enamel workshops around Limoges (France) started producing tableware and enamel for ornamenting personal utensils.

By the 17th Century, enamelled boxes, caskets, tobacco boxes and jewellery where fashionable.

Medallion St Demetrio In the 19th Century, Carl Fabergé began producing his now famous Fabergé Eggs in 1884, with an Easter egg made for Czar Alexander III that became a gift for his wife, Czarina Maria. Fifty six Imperial eggs were made, forty-four of which have been located today and another two that are known to have been photographed, and each is considered to be a priceless work of art. The eggs include intricate designs incorporating precious stones and metals within the enamel. A small number of colours were used in the nineteenth century and so Fabergé took it upon himself to experiment and soon came up with over 140 shades. The most prized of these was the oyster enamel which varied in colour depending on the intensity and the angle of the light.

From the 19th Century to the present, enamelled steel is increasingly used for decorative surface protection on signs, architectural applications, hollowware, appliances, sanitary ware and furniture.