The art of enameling goes back to ancient times when artisans discovered they could use fine particles of glass to substitute for precious gems. The effects were so stunning that we still see enamel used in fine jewelry today, with jewelers able to custom make hundreds of colors and incorporate them into bold designs (this works particularly well for men’s jewelry). As it’s a delicate skill, enameling is an important facet of a jewelry maker’s arsenal, and by no means diminishes the quality of the piece. Think Lalique.
Essentially, enamel is a protective coating over metal, comparable to enamel on a tooth only much more appealing to the eye. The glass, ground up into a paste, is applied to the metal and fused by intense heat. Depending on the metal oxides and the temperature, the resulting coating varies in color and translucence. Higher temperatures generally yield stronger enamels.
Now that you’re keen to it, you’ll see enamel used fine jewelry pins, charms, earrings, and bracelets, and you’ll find oodles of examples when you shop for jewelry in the DC area. Because it shows up often in the vintage styles that are all the rage (think Limoges), pawn shops in Northern Virginia are also a great place to find it.
To clean your enamel pieces, soak them for up to ten minutes in warm soapy water, then use a soft cloth—nothing linty!—to gently work off any dirt, then dry and enjoy!