By Åse Anderson
The use of enamelling in jewellery dates back to the ancient Persians, Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese before being popularised by the Romans. Following the expansion of the empire to Byzantium, enamelling techniques spread to Western Europe.
In simple terms, it involves a glass paste being applied to metal and then heated to fuse it to the surface. The finish of the enamel can be translucent or opaque depending on the temperature used to melt the glass. Higher temperatures result in a more transparent and durable enamel while lower temperatures give a more opaque and fragile surface.
In the 1900s, the technique was adopted by jewellers like Lalique, Fabergé and Tiffany who started using vitreous enamel - a fusion of fired glass with sterling silver - to add lustrous colour to their jewels.
Today, jewellery designers like Alice Cicolini, Raphaele Canot and Hattie Rickards are bringing enamelling bang into the 21st century with jewels that combine eye-catching design with traditional techniques.
Cicolini collaborates with craftsmen in India to create her Eastern flavoured jewels and is renowned for her use of meenakari - an old Persian technique that involves applying enamel to patterns engraved into gold.
A thin sliver of red enamel adds interest and colour to this Raphaele Canot bracelet from her Skinny Deco collection and the material brings a vibrant touch to the revolving central octagon in the Hattie Rickards Flip Octo ring.
The way that enamelling blurs the already fuzzy line between jewellery and art is beautifully demonstrated by the pieces created by Russian jeweller Ilgiz Fazulzianov, who designs under the moniker Ilgiz F. In the Burdock ring he designed for Annoushka, intertwined enamel flowers climb up a ruby-covered base towards a central pearl.
Former interior designer turned award-winning jeweller Holly Dyment creates colourful pieces that are both sophisticated and contemporary. Vivid enamel work brings to life the green eye in the centre of this flamboyant ring surrounded by diamonds and tsavorites.
One of the most impressive pieces from Chanel's Café Society collection is the gold Sunrise cuff where red enamelling snakes its way around white and yellow diamonds to create a mesmerising colour effect.
At the subtler end of the colour spectrum, a delicate tone-on-tone combination brings a serene lustre to the Astley Clarke Giant Moonlight Cosmos locket in rose gold while a dark blue enamel circle illuminates the white diamonds in the smaller version.
There is something infinitely fascinating how in our modern world, with its rapid technological advances, an ancient technique like enamelling lives on and continues to be treasured by both creators and wearers of jewellery.