The term Cloisonné is derived from the French, cloisons, meaning “partitioned cells”. Champlevé refers to a technique where a recess is made in the silver either by incising, etching or making a framework that is soldered onto a fine (pure) silver plate.
Thin metal wires (cloisons) of either fine silver or gold are first bent into various shapes to separate the enamels from one another.
After the first thin layer of enamel is applied and dried it is ready to be kiln fired, somewhere around 790 – 810 degrees celsius.
Enamel colour does not blend together when it melts, it is the painstaking skill of the practitioner who by careful placement of each grain achieves the gradation of colour and appearance of depth.
The enamels continue to be built up and fired repeatedly until the colours become vibrant and there is a feeling of depth to the piece. Each large piece may be fired over twenty times. Unlike pottery, each piece is always fired on its own.
The piece then needs to be refined by removing any excess enamel that has covered the cloisons. Using a series of diamond files (from coarse to very fine) the piece is gently filed back until the cloisons are revealed and the depth of the enamel is consistent. All scratches must be removed from the enamel and in the case of champlevé, the silver framework must also be perfect. It’s usually necessary to use a series of very fine grit diamond sanding papers to perfect the finish.
The final firing gives the glassy finish enamels are known for. The final depth of the finished enamel is less than .7mm (excluding the depth of the silver).
Enameling is a labour intensive art and not without risk, as silver has a relatively low melting point. The enamelist must be vigilant in order to ensure that the work is not lost during the firing process.