Cloisonné, French for "cell", where thin wires are applied to form raised barriers, which contain different areas of enamel applied above the original metal form. An ancient metalworking technique, it is a multi-step enamel process used to produce jewelry, vases, and other decorative items. Objects produced by this process are also called cloisonné.

Cloisonné first developed in the Near East. It spread to the Byzantine Empire and from there along the Silk Road to China. Chinese cloisonné is probably the most well known and ubiquitous. Russian cloisonné from the Tsarist era is highly prized by collectors. Chinese cloisonné is sometimes confused with Canton enamel, a similar type of enamel work that is painted on freehand and does not utilize partitions to hold the colors separate.

the Cloisonné process

First, the artist forms metal (such as copper or brass) into the shape of the finished object.

A paper pattern and a pencil are used to transfer a design to the metal object.

Partitions (French: cloisons) that act as color-separators are applied according to the transferred pattern and are held in place by a soldering paste (this is finely divided metal of low melting temperature in a flux paste). The partitions are bent and cut to length from flat wire stock (usually by hand using simple pliers) while the paste is applied with a small brush.

Heating the piece in an oven permanently affixes the partitions to the base metal by melting the solder. The piece is then allowed to cool.

Frit (glass crushed to a powder) in a water-based paste is painted into the partitions using an annotated pattern similar to the "paint by numbers" craft technique. After the frit has dried, firing in an oven melts it onto the metal. Several repetitions of the process may ensue to build up the coatings to the height of the partitions. Various colors and transparencies may be used in combination within a single partition to obtain the desired artistic effect.

The glass and a portion of the cloisons are ground and polished to form an even and smooth surface.

The exposed metal is electroplated with a thin film of gold to prevent corrosion and to give a pleasing appearance.


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