Vitreous enamel is a powdered glass, applied in several layers and fused to a metal surface in a high temperature environment. Some use a torch, I use a digital electric furnace which fires at approximately 1500 °F or 800 °C. This is the same type of furnace used for the burn out process of lost wax casting, although my kiln is small and about the size of a large mircowave.
There are many techniques used to build up enchanting colours, or reveal the metal surfaces below. During my days in university, I enamelled onto copper and fine silver, experimenting with layering opaque and transparent enamels to create rich colour schemes. Believed by some historians to be an ancient alternative to gemstones in jewellery and ornaments, glass has been used for thousands of years to apply rich colour to metal. A difficult technique to master, it is seldom used in modern production jewellery because of its fragility and time consuming processes.
For fine jewellery that I expect to be worn often, I've refined my process to incorporate this beautiful decorative glass feature to modern day diamond and gemstone rings in gold. We have done custom pieces using black, white, blue and teal hues, as well as a few one of a kind pieces with transparent enamels. Because the research and testing of colours is extensive for each ring, we do not currently offer custom color projects in enamel, white and black are the most popular. If clients do have special colour requests, additional fees apply to do design development and test colors on real gold, as we want to predict the results accurately.
The enamel that I use fuses with metals like copper, 999 pure silver, and pure gold easily. You see, enamel will melt at a high temperature on top of almost any metal, but it does not fuse with all metals. Way back in school, I remember testing out enamel on all kinds of alloys just to say I had tried, for example, when melted onto brass, the enamel would flake off in chips of glass, if not melted onto the proper alloy. If a design has a curvature, or if the enamel is applied to a sharp corner in a pattern, it may crack as the enamel and metal cool at different rates. Quite simply put, enameling is a chemical and physical reaction between glass and metal, and is not as simple as applying paint to a piece of jewellery. Painted on resins are popular in mass produced pieces, but are not vitreous enamel, and will chip, scratch or come off within time, showing their obsolescence as mass produced items. When you invest in one of my pieces, you are investing in a piece of traditional jewellery making that is special, rare and close to my heart.
I have done experimentation over a decade, and offer designs based on combining aesthetics and durability in a style that is uniquely Emily Gill. We do not replicate antiques, but forge new styles that you can call heirlooms for years to come. We do not do repairs or enamel work except for our own collection.
Our metal of preference for enameling is 18K yellow gold and 14K or lower karat rose gold. We do occasionally list pieces in 14K yellow in our ready to ship section, but have carefully designed these pieces with protected recessed areas to sure the enamel is as stable as possible. You will notice there are no white gold pieces with enamel on our site, this is because North American nickel white gold alloy is not compatible with enamel, we can substitute some designs with black onyx or gemstone inlay, just ask! We have collaborated with Toronto's finest lapidarists to create custom inlays using stones en lieu of enamel.
Enamel is glass, and therefore has the hardness of 5.5-7 on the mohs scale, similar to opal. We design our rings to be durable by recessing the enamel within small channels or dainty design motifs. Like any gemstone or piece of jewellery, you must care for your ring. If a ring is damaged due to abuse or lack of proper care, we cannot repair it free of charge, so please take good care of your enamel ring. Just like if a stone is broken in your ring from wear, enamel should be thought of as a stone in your ring that needs to be looked after. I wear an enamel ring while I work at my jewellery bench, and I have dropped it a few times without seeing breakage, but it is not a diamond and there is always the possibility you can chip it if you for example, drop it onto tile, porcelain sinks, or hit it hard against any surface. It is special, made with care, and deserves to be treated with love and respect.
If you have any questions about designing a ring with enamel, feel free to get in touch and we can chat about what works for you!
Thanks for reading!