Many ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Celts and Romans used enamelling to decorate objects such as jewellery and ritual vessels using brightly coloured glass.
Historically enamel was originally applied to gold, then to silver and then on to copper, bronze, iron and steel. Cyprus is known for the earliest production of enamel, which is where six gold rings were discovered that were decorated with various vitreous coloured layers that were fused to the gold. The rings were found in a Mycenaean tomb in Kouklia and are dated to around the 13th century BC during the Mycenaean period. There are many different enamelling techniques which have evolved over the years. The earliest known Cloisonné technique which was used by the Ancient Egyptians pre dates enamel to 4000BC and was used to set semi precious stones into jewellery by cold cementing. Enamelling was already being used by the Celts when the Romans conquered Britain. Many examples of this are in museums throughout the UK. An example of this is a mirror with red enamel which was made with the Champleve technique that was found in Gloucestershire. This technique is where a recess in the metal, produced either by chasing, casting or engraving, is filled with opaque red, blue, white and green enamel and then polished flush with with the divisions formed by the edges of the cells. Other objects that have been produced using this technique are some Saxon hanging bowls that were uncovered from the Sutton Hoo boat burial.
Until the Industrial revolution enamelling was used mostly for decoration, art and religious artefacts . During the mid-18th century Battersea enamelware was considered to be the finest of its kind in England. Faberge which was formed in 1842 in StPetersburg in Imperial Russia was also highly sought after for its enamelled products.
By the end of the 18th century the enamelling of cast iron cooking vessels and other domestic items such as bath tubs and sanitary ware became popular. This led on in later years to the enamelling of modern appliances such as cookers, which when coated became heat resistant, easy to clean and could be produced in many colours.
Today, enamel is still an important craft and continues to be produced for its decorative beauty and practicality.
The different colours and transparency of enamel are obtained by adding different chlorides or metal oxides to the the enamel, which itself is a form of glass that generally consists of sand, potash, iron oxide and flux. These materials are then washed and crushed into a mass, before being applied to a clean surface, such as copper, silver or gold.