By: Jane Roseen
Originating in Beijing during
the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the Chinese art of cloisonné is an intricate
process that requires many years of training for an artisan to master.
Cloisonné underwent a major change during the Ming Dynasty around 1426-1456 when
a blue enamel was discovered, which gives cloisonné its gorgeous look, and is
still used today. Ming Dynasty cloisonné is considered the most intricate.
Cloisonné pieces can be found in large objects, such as vases and other large
utensils and decorative items, as well as small items like earrings, bracelets,
chopsticks, or jars.
The Making of a
When visiting China, be sure to visit a cloisonné factory. It’s an experience
you won’t soon forget. Cloisonné requires many hours of pain-staking labor, and
Chinese artisans have mastered the entire process. It’s amazing to watch each of
the artisans in deep concentration creating these beautiful pieces.
Step 1: Cloisonné Design
The first step in creating one of these lustrous cloisonné pieces is to create
the design. Artists draw the design on a piece of paper, which is then handed
off to the next artisan in the process.
Step 2: Base Hammering
In this step, copper sheets are hammered on to an enamel piece, whether it is a
large vase or a small bracelet. The seams are sealed with copper solder and then
the piece is put into a stove to weld it. This is a time-consuming step and must
be done perfectly to achieve the desired effect.
Step 3: Copper Wire Curving
Unbeknownst to most people, cloisonné is not constructed of a single piece of
enamel. It is constructed instead of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of small
copper wires glued to the copper base.
Workers shape a small red copper wire to make the design as the designer has
instructed. These small, intricate designs can be birds, flowers, or any of
hundreds of other types of designs. The wires are attached using small tweezers
and pliers. The copper wires are then pasted on the surface of the copper body.
Then another worker puts silver solder between the red copper wire and the red
copper body. The piece is then put in the stove where the copper wires are
welded onto the base.
Step 4: Enamel Filling
When cooled, workers polish the piece and then fill in the wire design with
enamel materials according to the color design. Workers sit in front of a table
using a small suction pipe to suck the enamel from the colored dishes into the
After filling the wires with enamel, workers absorb any remaining moisture with
cotton. The piece is then put in a kiln for the first firing. During the firing
process, the enamel shrinks. So when cooled, workers fill with more materials
and fire again. This entire process is repeated three times until the enamel
completely fills the copper wires.
Step 5: Polishing
The final step in this involved process is polishing. Workers use emery stone to
polish the cloisonné until it is very smooth. They even up the color enamel
material with the copper wire. If there are places where the enamel doesn’t
quite match evenly with the copper wires, more enamel is added and the piece is
fired again. The polishing process will begin again. Then a soft yellow stone is
used to grind off any larger imperfections. Charcoal is used last to grind the
piece to a high sheen.
Creating the gorgeous cloisonné pieces we see today takes time, patience, and
ingenuity. Regardless of the type of cloisonné piece that you have, including
trays for your favorite gourmet chocolates, it is sure to add beauty and
elegance to your home or office.