What is Cloissone?

A stack of cloissone pieces waiting for another layer of enamel
An artisan traces an intricate pattern into the copper form
An artisan applies enamel paste into the filigree compartments
A red hot copper form cooling off after having the filigree fused
A stack of copper forms waiting for filigree designs to be applied
An artisan lowers the copper form into the heat source
A detailed view of the intricate filigree pattern.  In the upper left corner lay pieces of formed metal that are scored so they can be broken into several identical pieces of filigree.
An artisan hammers the copper form
A beautiful cloissone urn
Beautiful cloissone plate with cranes and The Great Wall
An example of a finished piece of Chinese Cloissone

Cloisonné is a form of enamelware that began in Beijing in the 13th century. During my stay in China, I had the opportunity to visit the Yu Long Friendship Store (www.bjdayi.com), a facility in Beijing where fine cloisonné is manufactured and sold.

Under dim fluorescent lighting, I watched artisans create beautiful enamelware pieces using techniques that have barely changed since the art’s inception. The process includes:

1. Base Hammering – Through hammering and annealing (a heating process to soften metal) copper is stretched and formed into the desired shape. A high level of skill is required to create a balanced piece that is uniform in thickness and weight.

2. Soldering – After tracing a design on the base, thin copper strips (called filigree) are adhered using vegetable glue. The piece is heated at a high temperature to fuse the filigree to the base.

3. Enamel Filling – Minerals combined with elements such as boric acid, saltpeter and alkaline are used to create different colors. Glaze colors include blue, red, yellow, green, white, sky blue, navy blue, carmine, dark yellow, light yellow, light green, milk white, deep violet, bright blue and amaranth. Mixing water, glue, and minerals creates a paste. The paste is then filled between the compartments separated by filigrees.

4. Enamel Firing – The object is heated at a high temperature until the enamel melds to the copper. During heating there is shrinkage to the enamel, so this process is repeated several times until the enamel is level to the filigree edge.

5. Polishing – The object is polished to thoroughly even out the enamel and filigree. First emery is used then the piece is put back in the fire. This is followed up with a whetstone, then lastly hard carbon is worked against the object to bring out a surface luster.

6. Gilding – Portions of the object are immersed in gold or silver with changing electric current to create an attractive, rust-resistant surface. Finally, electroplating and polishing is done on the exposed parts of the filigree and metal fringes.

On pre-seventeenth century cloisonné, filigree was made by hammering sheet metal into thin strips, resulting in irregular widths. After the seventeenth century, filigree was made by rolling metal through two metal cylinders, which produces uniform thickness.

Cloissone enamelware is a good value for a handcrafted piece of art considering the amount of skill and time involved in the creation process.

Chris is a WorthPoint Worthologist.

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