Enamelware has a long and fascinating history. Falcon Enamelware has been an iconic brand since the 1920s but enamel has been around for a lot longer than that. We want to give you a bit of context... with snippets on when/how enamel was discovered to how it has developed to become the iconic brand that so many people know and love today.
Enamel, or vitreous enamel to give it its proper name is made by fusing powdered glass to a surface like metal, clay or stone by firing. As the powdered glass heats up and melts, it is bound to the surface and creates the smooth finish known and loved by designers all over the world.
The finish of any enamel product is to do with the temperature at which it is fired. Obviously, the aim of the firing is to melt the powdered glass, but not the object it is being fused to. This means that the temperature is very exacting. The temperature also determines whether you get a translucent or opaque finish on your object.
Really, really old enamel
The earliest known enamelled objects were 6 gold rings found in a Mycenæan tomb at Kouklia, Cyprus. These rings could be dated as early as 1230 BC but no later than 1050 BC and may be evidence of enamel being introduced to Ancient Greece. However enamelling may be a process developed independently in many regions across the world, given that it appears in ancient Egypt, China and throughout the Roman empire as well.
The basic principle of this type of enamel was to use thin wires to mark out the area you would fill with the powdered glass and then use different colours to create the pattern. During the firing, the metal would melt and be set with the glass. Though initially the wires were quite thick, as people became more skilled the wires gradually got thinner and thinner, opening up the possibility of more forms.
In this period and right up to the Industrial Revolution, enamelling was an expensive process that required a craftsman. The jewellery created was incredibly detailed using the coloured glass to bring out beautiful patterns through the lustre of the gold or silver beneath. This intricacy was further developed in Europe through the Middle Ages, when the Byzantine enamelling process was adopted.
The Byzantines were part of the Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople as their capital. They moved away from the intricate patterns that had been used before and began creating pictures instead. This style forced the move away from standard vitreous enamel to cloisonne enamel - where precious gemstones were fixed into the enamel as well.
Though this style of enamel was originally used for smaller items, it quickly travelled and by the 14th century, examples of much larger bowls and vases started appearing in China. However, these pieces show considerable skill so it may be that the Chinese craftsmen were already familiar with the process and were simply expanding on it.
By the 15th century, enamelling was getting much more complex and the plique-a-jour method became fashionable. With this method the powdered glass would be melted and then the backing metal removed to create a stained glass method. One of the most impressive demonstrations of this technique is the Merode Cup which is now housed at the V&A Museum in London.
This method of enamelling has come and gone through the centuries and is not often seen nowadays. However, there are some limited pieces produced by the jeweller Tiffany in this style. The reason for the scarcity of plique-a-jour enamelled products is that it is a very tricky skill to master and the pieces are so easily broken.
It would be impossible to write about the history of enamel without mentioning the most iconic pieces in the world: the Faberge Eggs. All manufactured between 1885 and 1917 under the supervision of Faberge himself, the eggs are a real show of the brilliant effects that can be achieved using enamel. With the popularity of the Faberge Eggs, Art Nouveau jewellers took enamelling as their mode of choice and created all kinds of beautiful pieces.
But on the other side of the development of enamel was the realisation that this material could be used to create a non-stick surface, perfect for frying and cooking. As the Industrial Revolution took off, enamel cookware became popular as a robust yet light alternative to current trends. Though enamelware was briefly eclipsed by other materials, it is still highly regarded today as a sustainable alternative.