I find coloured enamels magical. The play of light between their translucent colours and the shine of the metal underneath can be stunning. Years ago I found two Pierre Bex vintage enamel brooches at my local flea, and replicating the way their enamels glitter has haunted my work since I began to design for Vanroe.
In March this year I found a family company still producing beautiful enamelled pieces from a workshop in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. This has been the home of British-made jewellery and fine metalware since Georgian times. So it was with great excitement that I started to design for their techniques and expertise.
Creating designs in coloured enamels is a tricky process. The metal must be cut and stamped by a series of hand-operated presses, then polished, plated, painstakingly enamelled by hand... then hand-polished again to a lustrous finish. What's more, every colour has to be hand-applied individually, then fully fired before the next, to prevent any mixing.
I choose a modern hard enamel for my designs because of its crisp, bright colours and durability. Unfortunately this makes things trickier for our experts in Birmingham. Cheaper, soft enamels can be finished with an epoxy resin coating which pools on the top and levels everything off. Pierre Bex used this coating on his pieces.
Our hard enamel needs to be hand-levelled with a grinding machine, then expertly polished to achieve the glistening shine. This means that you can feel the cold polished metal and enamel when running your fingers across your Vanroe piece (rather than a warm plastic resin coating). It also means that a lot can go wrong in the final plating and polishing stages… after all that beautiful coloured enamel has been applied!
The colours of the enamels also need great individual care. Opaque enamels can be matched to the Pantone colour codes I choose, but translucent colours need to be mixed by eye for every batch. The tone achieved depends on the depth of the enamel and the finish of the metal underneath. There's a great deal of skill in the mixing.
With every piece I create I learn more about the techniques to produce glittering colours with this beautiful material.