Ever curious about why certain materials make jewelry more expensive? Why do those creators of fashion craft with specific elements that become hallmarks of style? Diamonds, gold, and a handful of other materials are no-brainers, precious commodities that are valued for their rarity and practicality. Other items, such as platinum or enamel, are not so apparent. Enamel is less a precious substance and more of a valued material used to create a more interesting piece. It’s the artistry and the longevity of the enamel that produces value. If Nature saw fit to coat our teeth with it, then why not follow suit and use it to decorate ourselves.
Enamel, specifically vitreous or porcelain enamel, is a substance created by fusing powdered glass into a melted and flowing material, which then hardens to a smooth and durable coating. Enamel in jewelry is often colored and opaque, so don’t think of it as only a clear protective coating, but rather a versatile material that helps to create incredible art. This is often a broad category of technique and material: enameling, for example, usually refers to a process of over-glazing decorations on pottery, and enameled glass is referred to as “painted.” While I won’t spend time here discussing each way enamel is employed, more detailed discussions of various enamel jewelry techniques, like cloisonné, will be in a future post.
The earliest known use of enamel in jewelry was found in Cyprus, dated to the 13th century BC and was used in six gold rings. There are many examples of this incredible material used by Egyptian royalty in various dynasties of the ancient world. It’s quite spectacular to consider that an art form still popular was created so long ago. Enamel has been used across a variety of cultures and time periods, ranging from Roman ships to Greek pottery and decorative eating utensils to Fabergé Eggs. A substance that provides the means to aesthetic decadence, it is still used in most adornments, even cufflinks and shirt studs.
Enamel has many strengths that lend itself to cufflinks and studs, especially if they’re worn often. For example, enamel’s color never fades, which is why it was often used in ad signs: there are abundant examples of century-old signs that still look like they’re fresh from the manufacturer. Enamel is easily cleaned, which is why it is often used in street signs. Don’t let enamel’s lack of “higher” station dissuade you from its appearance in your cufflinks or stud set. The Missing Link endeavors to collect many rare and precious cufflinks, and though enamel is a common feature, what counts is the artistry it is implemented in. Here are some examples of intricate cufflinks and stud sets that’ll satisfy the final touch of a perfect suit:
These deceptively simple tuxedo shirt studs are created from gold and filled with a deep blue enamel; but if you look closely, within the enamel are golden rays, emanating from a cloudy lighter blue. They are quite reminiscent of Art Deco and would be a welcomed addition to any man’s swanky wardrobe.
These Art Deco cufflinks are double-sided and hail from the 1920s. They highlight the variety of colors enamel can display, and within the enamel, you can see an almost fabric-like design. Surrounding the purple enamel is an elegant frame of 14K gold curving inward and adding to the intricate layout of these cufflinks.
These double-sided cufflinks come to us from the 1940s. The deep blue enamel swells around the diamond that is centered within a whimsical frame. This is a perfect example of how enamel can be used in conjunction with precious stones and give depth to its intricacy, a platform upon which other materials may shine.
Men’s fashion is a rich world of color and you should never feel beholden to the classic black-and-white tuxedos or suits when many of the adornments are a cornucopia of hues. The same can be said about precious stones and metals; don’t feel that high fashion or style comes down to the rare or highly priced materials that create it. Enamel has been used for thousands of years and helped to create some of the greatest decorative art in museums. When wearing enamel cufflinks or shirt studs, you’re continuing a tradition of wearing lasting elegance.