Enamel jewelry is composed of two main parts, metal and glass…here’s how it works!
- The metal is first cut, filed and sanded smooth then rigorously cleaned as the fine glass powder will not adhere to dirty metal. Even the oil from clean hands will soil the metal enough to prevent the enamel from fusing. I do use gloves throughout, but I learned the hard way…better safe than sorry!
- If there is any shaping or texturing to be done, the metal is heated to annealing temperature with a torch as this softens the metal both to make it easier to form, and so the metal doesn’t break during shaping. This is followed by an acid bath to ensure all fire-scale is removed and the piece is clean. Then I use my flex shaft and a bristle disc to clean off any residual contaminant and to give the metal some “tooth”.
- If there are any holes to be drilled, are findings to be soldered on (studs, bails, etc.) now’s the time.
- Now it’s time for the mask to ensure I don’t inhale the fine glass powder I am about to apply. The enamel is unleaded, but who wants to inhale glass powder?
- The back of the metal is sprayed with a fine mist fixative to grab hold of the powder then the enamel powder is sifted on with fine sifting trays and set on a trivet to dry completely prior to going in the kiln. Yep, I said back…here’s the thing. Metal and glass expand and contract at different rates so if the back is not enameled, it will cause the glass to crack as it cools. Applying enamel to both sides prevents this. If I am using a heavy gauge metal, I can skip this process if there are only a couple of layers going on.
- After the piece is removed from the kiln, it has to be cleaned and sanded again on the front side as fire-scale will accumulate in the bare metal in the kiln.
- The enameling process is repeated on the front, but this is done several times. Prior to the final trip into the kiln, the piece is ground back and re-fired.
- When the enameling is complete, it’s time to grind any glass on the sides of the piece, then it goes into the tumbler with steel shot. A lot of enamellists don’t tumble their enamel. I do this for 2 reasons. The first is to clean and smooth all sides of the exposed metal. The second is that if the enamel is going to crack at all, it will do so in the hour or so it’s in the kiln. Because I use a variety of techniques (like when I want fissures in the enamel) I just like to make sure that if the enamel is going to crack it does so in my shop and not on you!
- All that’s left now is the finish work like applying ear wires, chains, etc.