Cloisonné Enameling and Jewelry Making

Cloisonné Enameling and Jewelry Making

by Felicia Liban, Louise Mitchell


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"The complete book on cloisonné enameling . . . encyclopedic in scope." — Jewelers' Circular-Keystone
"A good addition to all general craft collections." — Library Journal
One of the most beautiful forms of enameling and jewelry making, cloisonné enameling is currently enjoying a renaissance among jewelers, enamelists, designers, and craftspeople. For anyone wishing to explore the age-old art, the present volume is considered the best book on the subject. Written by two veteran jewelry designers and widely acclaimed when first published, it offers a comprehensive step-by-step guide to the tools, materials, and processes required to create shimmering, gem-like cloisonné enamels and settings.
The book is divided into two parts. The first conveys everything from designing the wirework for the "cells" or cloisons, making the enameling cup to hold the wires and enamels, and adding and firing the colors, to creating special effects with wire, foil, and decals. Part II provides clear directions for creating handsome settings for pendants, rings, pins, buckles, boxes, and a variety of other decorative items. Over 150 detailed illustrations and photographs illuminate each step of the procedures as well as the glorious finished products.
This thorough, informative book will be appreciated by intermediate-level and advanced enamelers alike. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the rewarding and highly satisfying art of creating vibrant multi-hued cloisonné enamels and jewelry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486259710
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 07/01/1989
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

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By Felicia Liban

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1980 Felicia Liban and Louise Mitchell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13600-4


Tools, Equipment, and Studio

To begin cloisonné enameling, you must first have access to the necessary tools and equipment and a proper work space. Your equipment needs will depend upon your circumstances. The beginner who will be taking a class in cloisonné and has no tools will want to buy only the tools required to supplement the classroom or workshop equipment. If you have had some experience in cloisonné, however, you may now be ready to set up a simple home workshop. Other jewelers may wish to set up a more complete jewelry- making studio or add equipment to an existing studio.

This chapter lists the tools needed for each of these situations; each tool is described later in the text when it is actually put to use. The Sources of Supplies suggests where to purchase the tools and materials.

We will also describe two studio setups, a simple home workshop and a sophisticated teaching studio. In any situation, wear comfortable clothing. Jeans, work shirts, and low- heeled shoes are traditional craftsmen's clothing. Avoid loose sleeves that could catch on fire, and especially avoid wearing anything made of acetate, which will melt when heated and cause burns. If your hair is long, keep it tied back and out of the way.

It is also important to keep all your tools clean and orderly. Accidents should not happen if you take the time to set up all the tools you need before you begin working and if you clean up carefully after each session.


In a classroom situation the student usually has access to a full line of jewelry-making equipment. Most classes, however, ask that you purchase the tools that are used individually, such as pliers and tweezers, as well as the silver or other metal you will be using. The classroom will probably have worktables, enamels, kilns, and the necessary soldering, grinding, and polishing equipment.

Here is a list of the tools a student is generally asked to buy and bring to class:

Chain-nosed watchmaker's pliers

Round-nosed watchmaker's pliers

Flat-nosed pliers

Two pairs of fine watchmaker's tweezers

Firing tweezers—7" long (18 cm) soldering tweezers for kiln use only

Small metal ruler, inch and metric

Bezel shears

Needle files, #2 cut

Curved burnisher

Soldering pick

Hard silver solder flux and small brush

Solder—IT, hard, medium, easy, and extra easy, 1 pennyweight (dwt) each

3" x 4" (8 x 10 cm) charcoal block

Stone or rocker pusher

Set-screw dividers

000 sable brush for enameling

Silver or copper for your projects


Once the student has had some enameling experience and has purchased some tools and silver, the next step is to set up a small workshop at home. One definite advantage to cloisonné is that it needs very little space. Most of the equipment needed for enameling and the jewelry fabricating described in this book can fit on one large worktable.

A kitchen or basement is probably the best location for a home studio. The equipment should be out of the reach of young children, and it is helpful if there is a supply of running water. At least one electrical outlet and a good light are essential. Keep a small fire extinguisher close at hand, or a box of baking soda, in case anything catches on fire. Make sure everything is neatly and properly stored and labeled.

The following list (in addition to the tools listed for the classroom) will complete a basic setup needed to make cloisonné enamels at home:


Agate mortar and pestle

Small beakers or shot glasses 1/4

to 1/2 teaspoon-sized (1 to 2.5 ml) spoon

Small bowls for washing enamels

Micrometer or wire gauge

Manicure scissors

Soldering torch (propane or acetylene) and starter

Tripod with wire mesh top

Iron binding wire

Chasing hammer

Steel pan filled with

Carborundum grains Firebrick (small)

Hard silver solder flux and small brush

Heat lamp

Yellow ochre or typist's nonflammable white correction fluid

A "third arm" and lock-tweezer

Pumice chunks

Sparex #2 pickle

Pickle pot or slow cooker

Copper or wooden tongs

Baking soda

Detergent for cleaning

Glass brush and old toothbrush

Two steel blocks, 2 1/2 (6 cm) square and 3/4 (2 cm) high

Table-top kiln

Ceramic tile or Transite, 12" (30 cm) square

Mica or high fire unglazed porcelain tile

Metal spatula for kiln

Plastic circle templates


Ring or bezel mandrel

Felt buffing sticks

Bobbing and white diamond polishing compounds

Wood or steel dapping block and punches

Wet/dry Carborundum paper in

220 to 600 grits

150-grit dry aluminum oxide sandpaper Magnifying glass or magnifier Matte salt

Scotch stone

Butcher's wax

Dop cement

Wooden dowels

Single-edged razor blade

Small tin cans (such as tuna-fish cans)

Tin oxide

Suede leather block—4" (10 cm) square wood block to which a piece of suede is stapled

Tracing paper

Kiln. The only kiln needed for small cloisonné work is a small electric hobby kiln, sometimes called a trinket kiln (see Sources of Supplies). It has a 3" (7.6 cm) diameter ceramic floor in which a heating element is encased. It turns on when plugged in and heats to about 1500° F (816° C). The largest size enamel that the trinket kiln will hold is about (6 cm) in diameter. All the examples in this book are within this practical range. The next largest table-top kiln is 6" (15 cm) in diameter and will hold an enamel about 4" (10 cm) in diameter. Its coils are concealed in the ceramic floor as in the smaller model. It gives off quite a bit of heat, so unless a rheostat is connected to it, it must be unplugged between firings. This kiln is somewhat more expensive than the smaller one. Both kilns must be placed on a ceramic tile or Transite pad for safety.

If such trinket kilns are not available, chamber kilns with exposed heating coils may be used if they are fitted with a nichrome mesh screen. The mesh should rest on the outer ceramic edge and cover the coils so the coils do not touch the mesh, spatula, tweezers, or the enamel piece. Chamber kilns are more expensive to operate than the trinket kilns, but if you have one, you can use it for cloisonné enameling.

Trivets (stilts). A trivet or stilt is occasionally used to support the enamel piece in the kiln during firing. The trivet keeps the enamel off the floor of the kiln and also keeps the counter enamel on the back surface neat. Trivets or stilts are made of stainless steel or nichrome wire and are available from enameling suppliers in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can also buy nichrome wire and make a stilt of the size and shape you need.

Enamels and metals. This book uses Thompson enamel colors. The beginner can purchase a special kit of these enamels, consisting of 2 ounces (57 grams) of any eight colors. For metals, it is sufficient to begin with a supply of cloisonné wire, a sheet of 30- and 26-gauge fine silver, and a complete selection of silver solder. Chapters 2 and 3 will tell you much more about the enamels and metals used for cloisonné.

Soldering torch. A Benzomatic Bantam torch is a small propane torch that is adequate for the beginner. You may wish later to add a Benzomatic Master torch, which has two other tips for flame variation. A larger and more costly, but better, torch is an acetylene gas tank, combined with a regulator, hose, handle, and tips. This is the type of torch used in most classrooms and workshops. Chapter 4 gives more information about torches and soldering equipment.


The serious jewelry maker will want to invest in (or may already have) some of the more expensive and complex pieces of equipment. These are not necessary for making enamels, but they make jewelry fabrication faster and easier. They can be purchased as needed:


Rolling mill

Draw plates and tongs

Flexible shaft Drill press

Acetylene torch

Polishing tumbler

Various size mandrels

Balance scale

Metal polisher with dust collector

Lapidary polisher

Ultrasonic cleaner

Bench shear

Circle cutter

Planishing hammer

Rivet hammer


As mentioned earlier, a studio can range from a small, compact workshop to a large, professional teaching studio. Here we will describe and show our own setups.

The Mitchell studio is in a cheerful 9 x 17-foot (3 × 5 meter) sunroom that is well ventilated and large enough to accommodate all the equipment needed to do the projects in this book. (See figure 1–2.) There is no running water in the studio, so the enamels are carried on a tray to the kitchen to be washed. Extra electrical outlets were added, including a multiple outlet with individual switches that is handy for kilns and tumblers because they are turned on and off frequently. An extension-arm lamp can be moved into the best position for seeing the work. The worktables were made from 2 x 4s and plywood, and they have fireproof Transite tops. They are heavy and immobile.

The Liban studio takes up an entire basement and is equipped for teaching classes. The walls are painted white and the ceiling is loaded with fluorescent lights, which make it bright and cheerful. Electrical outlets are everywhere, including on the worktable top. The studio includes a sink, bench shear, drill press, and polishing equipment. The tools, enamels, books and catalogs are easily accessible and well organized. (See figures 1–3 and 1–4.)


Notebooks and files are an essential part of any workshop. You will want to keep records of your design ideas, a file of design sources, and careful records of each finished piece so you can duplicate your successes and avoid repeating mistakes.

The Clipping File

Although we have provided a number of designs for cloisonné enamels in Chapters 9 and 10, you will undoubtedly want to design some of your own. You cannot beat a sketch that you have drawn from real life as the basis of a design. It will have a freshness and originality that you cannot get any other way. The next best thing is taking a photograph yourself. You can focus on exactly the details you want in a particular subject.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to sketch or photograph a subject from life, and here is where a clipping file comes into use. Most designers keep files of newspaper and magazine clippings on every subject they might want to use in a design. They use the clippings both as information sources and as the basis for stylized drawings or tracings. A library near you may also keep files of photographs that are available for people to borrow.

Some magazines such as National Geographic and Smithsonian should be saved intact because of the wealth of pictures they contain. There are also numerous sourcebooks available on the market that contain uncopyrighted designs from past eras and from different countries. These can be helpful for finding motifs. Worth collecting, too, are books about jewelry throughout history. Often an ancient piece can inspire a modern design.

Working Up Your Own Design

Once you have chosen an idea for your enamel from a sketch, photograph, or clipping, it is easy to transform that idea into a workable design. Some of the design aids that are available on the market are very helpful, especially plastic templates of various shapes and French curves.

Tracing paper is also an invaluable design aid. You can use it to adapt and vary photographs, sketches, or other illustrations to achieve a workable design you like. First, trace the original picture. Then draw an outline of the perimeter of the proposed enamel. Then make a sandwich of the tracing paper with the outline of your enamel on the bottom, the tracing of the artwork in the middle, and a clean sheet of tracing paper on top. On the top sheet, retrace the best elements of the design underneath. You can vary or simplify the lines or add new elements, always keeping in mind the shape of the outline underneath. Now, remove the middle drawing and add a clean sheet of paper on top. Redraw the image again, incorporating whatever new adjustments you think it needs. Keep going this way until you have the best possible design for your enamel. The final drawing will be clean and neat, and you won't have erased any ideas that you might want to refer to later.

With any design, try to keep the lines interesting and lively, remembering that they will eventually be gold or silver embedded in enamel.

Scaling Down Artwork

Cloisonné enamels are very small, and you will probably have to scale down and simplify most artwork for a design. You can have photographs reduced at a local photocopying service, or you can use the grid method to scale down the art yourself.

To use the grid method, simply draw a grid of squares on tracing paper over your original design (secure the grid to the design with tape "hinges" or paperclips). Next draw a smaller grid with the same number of squares over an outline of the proposed enamel. (This outline is the same size you want the finished piece to be.) Wherever an important line in the original design crosses the grid line, make a dot on the same spot on the small grid over the enamel outline. Using the original as a guide, connect the dots on the small grid freehand. (See figure 1_5)

Keeping a Notebook

A carefully kept notebook is an indispensable tool for the designer/ craftsman. Good records will enable you to reproduce a successful enamel design at another time, and it can help ensure that you don't repeat your mistakes. For each enamel that you do, include in your notebook a pencil sketch, a rough color sketch for ready identification, color diagrams, wirework diagrams, notes on any special procedures, and any additional comments you wish to make.

(To make the illustrations and diagrams in chapters 9 and 10, we used a black fine-point marker for the outlines and wire lines, and Letratone dot film to represent the different colors. You could also use colored markers or pencils in your notebook.)

The Slide Portfolio

We recommend that you take color slides of every piece you make before you let it out of your hands. The slides will coordinate with your notebook and will automatically provide you with a portfolio of your work. If you do not know how to take 35 mm slides yourself, there are books available on how to photograph crafts, or it might be worthwhile to hire a professional photographer who specializes in craft photography. Enamels are difficult to photograph because of the reflections from the enamels and the metal.

You should always try to present your work in its best light, whether it is in photographs or on display. Taking the time to put your work in a pretty box or jewelry pouch if you are showing it to an eventual buyer is very important. Having good photographs to show is just as important, especially if you are trying to create sales.



Enamel is basically ground glass and, like all glass, it has a base of silica or sand. The amount of borax and lead oxide added to the silica determines the hardness of the enamel. Potash enhances the color, and the amount of soda and borax added affects the elasticity. Borax also helps the various metal oxides used to color the enamels mix together more easily. Different metal oxides produce different colors. For instance, red enamels are made from gold oxides, which is why they are more expensive than other colors. The addition of tin oxide will make an enamel opalescent or pearly.

To make enamel, all the ingredients are melted together in a furnace for about fifteen hours. Then the molten glass is poured from the furnace and quenched with water. This produces cool, coarse chunks. These are ground and sifted through graded sieves to a particular mesh size, or they are reprocessed to make specific shapes such as threads or ribbons. (The ribbons and threads are most often used in copper enameling, not in cloisonné.)

Enamel colors for cloisonné are available in chunks or in pulverized form. If you buy chunks, you must grind the enamel by hand using an agate mortar and pestle. It is far more convenient to buy small jars of pre-ground enamel. Although they do not keep indefinitely as do the chunks, they have a shelf life of several years. For most cloisonné enameling, an 80 mesh size is best. You can grind the 80 mesh to an even finer size by using an agate mortar and pestle. The finer grind can be helpful for occasional tiny details.


Excerpted from CLOISONNÉ ENAMELING AND JEWELRY MAKING by Felicia Liban. Copyright © 1980 Felicia Liban and Louise Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
1 - Tools, Equipment, and Studio,
2 - Enamels,
3 - Sheet Metal and Wire,
4 - Soldering, Annealing, and Cleaning,
5 - The Silver Enameling Cup and Wirework,
6 - Enameling Techniques,
7 - Finishing and Polishing,
8 - Alternate Enameling Cups and Bases,
9 - Unshaded Enamel Designs,
10 - Shaded Enamel Designs,
11 - Silver and Gold,
12 - Advanced Metal Techniques,
13 - Enamel Settings,
14 - Chains,
15 - Boxes,
Thompson Enamel Colors,
Sources of Supplies,
Additional Resources,
Suggested Reading,

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