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Cloisonné, Champlevé, and Basse-Taille in one pair of enamel earrings

How to use three enameling techniques to create pieces with color and depth
Cloisonne_hero
Cloisonné is the process of separating enamel colors into compartments (called “cloisons”) with thin gold or silver wires. The wires become a design element, and the spaces between them are filled in with wet enamel. In traditional cloisonné, the wire compartments are soldered to the base before enameling; most contemporary cloisonné is created by firing a clear enamel base coat on the metal, setting the shaped wires on top, and then fusing the wires to the enameled surface. The result is an enameled panel that the artist then sets in a piece of jewelry.

In champlevé, enamel is inlaid directly into a relatively deep recess in a metal base (usually silver, copper, or gold), so that there is no need for a separate setting. In basse-taille, the artist etches, engraves, or carves a relatively shallow texture or pattern into the metal before coating it with transparent enamel. Typically, varying depths are carved into the metal base. The enamel will be darker in the deeper areas and lighter in the higher areas, creating a gradient effect.

These earrings combine all three enameling approaches. The textured base layer is basse-taille, the fabricated frame is champlevé, and the spiraled wires that separate the various colors of enamel are pure cloisonné.
Cloisonne template
Template

Supplies

  • Fine-silver sheet: 20- or 22-gauge (0.8 or 0.6 mm) (dimensions are determined by your design)
  • Fine-silver round wire: 20-, 22-, and 24-gauge (0.8, 0.6, and 0.5 mm) or ready-made cloisonné wire (length is determined by your design)
  • Powdered enamel:
  • Leaded, transparent, colors can vary
  • Lead-free in a complementary color, opaque (for counterenamel)
  • Sterling silver ear wires

NOTE: I prefer to use leaded enamel because the colors are more vibrant, but you can also use lead-free. 

Toolboxes 

Additional tools & supplies
  • Rubber cement
  • Bench block, 2
  • Soft plastic mallet
  • Blue Fuse or other copper-bearing fusing solution
  • Fusing station: Fire-resistant surface (soldering pad, charcoal block, or firebrick), torch, steel mesh, tripod, etc.
  • Bench lathe with a 220-grit belt on a rubber wheel (optional)
  • 220-grit Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) disk on a mandrel 
  • Wooden forming block
  • Rolling mill (optional)
  • Wire cutters
  • Double-sided tape
  • Large bucket (optional)
  • Small pick
  • #00 sable brush
  • Wood paint stirrer (optional)
  • Dopping wax (optional)
  • Flexible Diamond strips on a wooden or plastic stick
  • Acetone (optional)
  • Cerium oxide (optional)
 
Cloisonne 1
Step 1
Cloisonne 2
Step 2
The design process

NOTE: I am working on multiple pairs of earrings in the process photos — you’ll be working on just one.

Create your design. Don’t rush through the design process. Draw lots of sketches, color them with colored pencils, and don’t move forward until you are happy with your final design [1]. Make test tiles of your enamel colors to use for reference when choosing the colors for your design.

Frame and backplate

Pierce the frame. Print two copies of the earring frame Template, or draw your design on paper and make a photocopy of it. Set the extra copy aside.

Use rubber cement to affix your design or template to a sheet of 20- or 22-gauge (0.8 or 0.6 mm) fine silver. 

NOTE: A sheet of 22-gauge (0.6 mm) fine silver is thinner and more delicate than 20-gauge (0.8 mm), and is a good choice for earrings, since the final product will be more lightweight.

Drill a hole at the top center of each frame with a #53 (1/16-in./1.5 mm) drill bit. Drill a second hole in the center section of each design with a #68 (1/32-in./0.79 mm) drill bit [2]. 
 
Cloisonne 3
Step 3
Cloisonne 4
Step 4
Insert a #2 blade into a jeweler’s saw, and thread the blade through the hole in the center section. Pierce the interior shape, making sure to stay inside the line [3]. File the inside edge of the frames with a needle file to remove the marks left from sawing [4].
Cloisonne 5
Step 5
Cloisonne 6
Step 6
Saw  out the exterior of each frame, and file the edges smooth [5].

Prepare the backplate. Cut two pieces of fine-silver sheet larger than the frames. Don’t file the edges of the backplate; you’ll remove the excess silver after fusing [6].
Cloisonne 26

There are several more steps to create these beautiful enameled earrings. Learn about fusing, making your own cloisonné wires, enameling and finishing.

For complete project instructions, click here to download & print this PDF

 
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