Energized by Enamel | January 15th, 2015

Have you ever noticed how bright colors can have an effect on your mood? Perhaps you become a little more cheerful when you see the color yellow. Or maybe you feel rested when gazing at something green in nature. My favorite color is orange because it is such an energizer and makes me feel enthusiastic about life!

Whatever the color, if it is cheery and bright, it can significantly boost your spirits. They must have known about this concept in the 1960s because brightly colored enamel flower pins suddenly bloomed and sold like crazy.

They were inexpensive, colorful accents that could be worn on just about anything including dresses, sweaters, belts, handbags, scarves, and hats.

The Art of Enameling

The art of enameling has been practiced since ancient times. It can be found on Greek gold jewelry dating all the way back to the 4th century BC. Because of its color and brilliance, enameling has since been used throughout history by many cultures all over the world.

Enameling is a technique in which powdered glass, either colored or clear, has been mixed with pigments and applied to metal. It is then heated at a high temperature until it melts, giving it a decorative coating on a surface.

The higher the temperature, the stronger and more translucent it becomes. If fused at a lower temperature, it is much more fragile and opaque. This is the technique used to create the petals on enamel flower pins like this polka dot black Trifari pin from the 1960s:


During the 12th century, Limoges, France was the most famous European center of vitreous, or porcelain, enamel production. In the 15th century, they perfected a technique for painting the enamel on a metal surface. Dark enamel was applied first with additional layers of translucent enamel to allow the dark color to show through. Areas without any enamel were generally gilded with a thin coating of gold.

I found this vintage signed Limoges cobalt blue enamel pin several years ago at an antique shop and repurposed it into an adjustable ring:

Lalique and Art Nouveau

René Lalique (1860-1945), a French designer known for his creations of glass art and jewelry, started his own business in 1885. He designed for French jewelers such as Cartier and Boucheron. Lalique specialized in translucent enamel, finding its ability to produce vivid, luminous colors.

He glorified nature in his jewelry designs and by 1890, Lalique was recognized as one of France’s best Art Nouveau jewelry designers.

Art Nouveau is characterized by abstractions, flowing lines, and things found in nature such as butterflies, flowers, and dragonflies. It was also common to see an image of a woman carved into the surface of the jewelry.

I was fortunate enough to get to go to Lisbon, Portugal and tour the museum (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian) that displayed René Lalique’s fabulous jewelry designs.

Here is his dragonfly lady brooch that was on display, one of Lalique’s enamel Art Nouveau pieces:

 Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian from René Lalique in 1903

It was during this time period (1880-1910) that enamel jewelry became very popular. Designers used this technique to decorate less expensive metals which helped to launch costume jewelry’s popularity as it was much more affordable than precious metals.

Enamel jewelry is still being made and sold today. If you happen to own a piece, you can keep it clean by soaking it in warm, sudsy water for five or ten minutes. Use a soft cloth to wipe off any areas that are noticeably dirty. Rinse, then dry with a lint-free cloth.

The next time you have one of those days when your mood needs a good boost, get energized by using a little flower power. Accessorize with a brightly colored enamel pin…or an entire bouquet of them!

Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.

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