Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Glass with class

Enameled jewelry has captivated collectors throughout the decades, relates dealer Lisa Stockhammer-Mial.

By Phyllis Schiller

Image: The Three Graces

What are some early examples of enamel jewelry?

“Enamel jewelry enjoys a vast and extensive history dating back millennia. The earliest confirmed pieces are from the 13th century BCE: six rings from the Mycenaean society. Important examples of pieces made in Europe during the Renaissance and the 1900s in western Europe and America are mostly seen in museums. A select few pieces do enter the market but are usually out of reach price-wise for most collectors, as are the exquisite and unsurpassed creations of the great masters, such as René Lalique or Louis Comfort Tiffany.

“What are the most popular periods and types?

“Recently, antique enamel-adorned jewelry has captivated new audiences and is in great demand. Color-rich decorative surfaces, those that depict miniature scenes, cherubs, or landscapes, are snapped up quickly for their incomparable artistry.

“Plique-à-jour — a painstaking technique with a stained-glass appearance, created during the Art Nouveau period circa 1890 to 1910 — is highly desired. Due to its scarcity, prices escalate, and fine examples are not easily sourced. Art Deco jewelry utilized enamel as an accent to the whole. Black enamel was favored in Victorian mourning jewelry as well as in decorative items. American black enamel basse-taille jewelry is readily available to collectors.

“Edwardian jewelry can be a rich source of enameled pieces. Especially eye-catching are ladies’ pocket watches and watch pins and hangers, with their use of translucent enamel over guilloche metal. Lockets were a favorite medium for a variety of colored enamels. Figural brooches from the mythical to the realistic often feature polychrome enamels.

“Collectors often gravitate to the understated elegance of enameled jewelry from the neoclassical period around 1790 to 1820. The romanticism of the 1820s and 1830s also appeals to many. Georgian rings with old mine or rose-cut diamonds have seen a reawakening. This has led to a number of reproductions or marriages of parts of jewelry. The bagues au firmament [rings of the heavens] English rings, usually in cobalt blue glass or enamel, have hit a collecting frenzy of late.

“What are some signs of wear that one should look out for in choosing enamel jewelry?

“Enamel, being melted powdered glass, can be fragile, depending upon the technique. Much of what is found in the market has been restored, all or in part. Some professional restoration is acceptable and does not markedly influence value. Less than 10% enamel loss or restoration is ideal for purchase. Plique-à-jour jewelry with chips to the edges, cracks, or missing areas is far less likely to end up represented, if at all.

“To detect problems, view pieces under bright light, tipping them back and forth from the light source. Chips and losses will show up along with patches of repair. Restorations are often shinier and may appear slightly raised, have distinct borders on a field of enamel, or present an uneven surface. Edges and end sections should be examined closely. Color variation can be a telltale sign of restoration. Sometimes if a piece is re-enameled completely, the surface is undulating or unduly shiny, and these should be avoided. Rings naturally receive the most wear, so some enamel loss or damage can be expected. The older the item, the more leeway is allowed, and rarity and aesthetic beauty also enter into decisions to buy.

Who is Lisa Stockhammer-Mial?Lisa Stockhammer-Mial is the owner and president of online retailer The Three Graces.
 She has been involved with antique jewelry for more than 30 years. A member of the American Society of Jewelry Historians and the Women’s Jewelry Association, she has lectured at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2022. To subscribe click here.

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