The term ‘Cloisonne’ derives from the French word ‘cloison’ which means compartments.
It is a design term and decorative methodology that goes back to the Byzantine era (the eastern Roman Empire that flourished after the fall of the western Roman Empire, from about 330 A.D. – 1400).
Although the cloisonne design style originated in Eastern Europe, it caught on with the Chinese and became one of their most prevalent decorative arts.
The methodology of early artisans consisted of bending metal wires into shapes to create small design areas (the cloisons).
These shapes would be adhered to a metal base, often silver, with a clear coat of enamel. Next the shapes would be filled with finely ground enamel or colored glass, and melted in a hot fire. One color would be melted and cooled at a time, creating a painstaking process. Once cooled, the piece would be buffed and polished.
Cloisonne designs were used on everything from the hilts of swords, to pottery, urns, decorative tiles, and, of course, jewelry.
Even with today’s modern kilns and technology, the process can still be painstaking, with over twenty applications of finely ground enamels applied.
The term, however, has come to be applied to any designs which encircle or outline color shapes or stones. More expensive designs encircle gemstones with gold.
But whether made with pricey or more inexpensive materials, the resulting cloisonné jewelry is colorful and creative, making for lovely, distinctive pieces.
By Susan Cooper