I’ve had a love affair with enamel since I was a child – maybe just because it’s shiny!! Even as an adult, I still opt for the enamel version of anything: it shouts “quality” and “longevity” and, most importantly to me, “BEAUTY”.
When we talk about enamel in the art sense, we’re talking about vitreous (from the Latin vitrum, meaning “glass”) enamel, which is commonly used to decorate a base material, such as metal, ceramic, or glass. The word “enamel” itself comes from a combination of the Old French word, en (in) and the Old German smelten (smelt), providing a clue to how an enamel finish is achieved. Given its etymology, I wasn’t surprised to learn that enamelling as a process has existed for thousands of years and in many cultures, including the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and even the Celts.
There are differing methods of enamel application, which vary the basic technique of placing powdered glass (of a chosen colour) onto a base material, e.g. copper, then heating it to ~800°C. At that temperature, the powder melts, flows into place, and fuses with the base.
Different techniques include: Champlevé, during which the base material is carved out to form pits in which the enamel is place, leaving the base material; Stenciling, where a stencil is used to make the pattern, leaving the enamel proud of its base material; and Cloisonné (see photo), which uses thin wires to create barriers between different areas of enamel.
Whichever technique is used, it’s all beautiful imo! So, you can keep your plastic pin-badges and brooches: I’ll still go for the enamel every time.
Update: check out my Enamel board on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/wildbrookwool/enamel/.