Guide to Cloisonné Jewelry: Know Before You Buy

Guide to Cloisonné Jewelry: Know Before You Buy
Guide to Cloisonné Jewelry: Know Before You Buy

One of the most beautiful pieces of artwork that you will ever encounter as an accessory to adorn yourself with and complement your outfit is cloisonné jewelry. It is inherited as an ancient jewelry making technique from different civilisations all around the world, and to this day, continues to be appreciated.

Cloisonné was largely utilized in antiquity for jewelry and small fittings for weapons or clothes. Today, the original jewelry making process has not vanished, although it is rare. What you should know before you buy, are all included in this article, a complete guide to Cloisonné jewelry. Below you will learn about the beautiful process of making Cloisonné jewelry, its history, and a curated list of Cloisonné jewelry to add to your collection. 

Cloisonné Jewelry Basics

  • The earliest use of cloisonné jewelry dates back in the 2nd millennium BC, and was popular in the ancient Near East (today’s Egypt and Turkey)
  • Cloisonné jewelry is made by decorating metalwork with colorful puzzles of gems and glass. 
  • The distinguishing details of cloisonné jewelry are the colorful and intricate details. 
  • Different patterns of cloisonné jewelry include anything from simple flowers to elaborate scenes, and everything in between. 
  • Cloisonne jewelry pieces are delicate artwork, and they necessitate being stored safely, and cleaned gently. 
  • The modern making of cloisonne jewelry has shifted from usage of cut gemstones and colorful pieces of glass, to enamel powder. 

The Process of Making Cloisonné Jewelry

Cloisonné jewelry is one of the most impressive ancient jewelry making techniques that consists of decorated metalwork objects with colorful paints. The designs are either held in place, or usually separated by metal wire or strips, like gold. The decoration of the jewelry piece is formed by first soldering or affixing silver or gold wires put on the borders of the metal object to create compartments (cloisons in French).

In ancient times, inlays of different materials like cut gemstones or glass were used to decorate the cloisonné jewelry. The compartments are often made of a variety of colors, and their separation from one compartment to another using metal like gold, remains visible in the finished piece. The resulting object is called Cloisonné. It is distinguishable by its delicate workmanship, and the fun pop of color. 

Today, it is replaced by cloisonné enamel, an easier but different artwork. See, cloisonné enamel items are created by combining enamel powder into a paste, which is then burnt in a kiln. When using gemstones or colored glass, the pieces must be cut or ground into the shape of each cloison.

How Can You Tell Jewelry is Cloisonné?

As aforementioned, cloisonné jewelry has its unique form of jewelry making, and comes with details that are easily distinguishable. For one the colorful display is created by a mixture of glass or cut gemstones, set in a puzzle and held together by thin metal wire like gold or silver. This is the ancient form of making cloisonne jewelry. The modern form includes the following: Enamel powder is combined into a paste, which is burnt in a kiln. The final product is then decorated with thin precious metal wires, to give the unique cloisonne aesthetic.  

As you can see, understanding how cloisonne jewelry is made, helps you easily tell the difference between genuine cloisonne pieces and cheap replicas. In addition, you can check for other tell-tale signs that will help you understand it’s worth: 

  • The metals used: If the cloisonne piece is made of precious metals, it should be marked with the metal carats/purity.
  • The surface of the cloisonne piece should be smooth. There should be no rough edges to the wires. 
  • The surface of the piece should also be identically filled with enamel. There should be no lower or higher compartments.  

Popular Types of Cloisonné Jewelry Pieces

The delicate workmanship of making cloisonné jewelry lends itself to a variety of jewelry pieces. If you are shopping for Cloisonné jewelry you will find some of the following pieces…

Pendants and Pins 

The amazing pop of colors make cloisonné jewelry perfect as a focal point of a necklace. In addition, you can also accessorize yourself by using cloisonné artworks as pins. Expect to find a wide range of cloisonné pin pendants, varying from tiny, understated elements, to those large statement pieces. Wear it with a simple turtleneck or a minimalist dress, to allow the cloisonne pendant take center stage. 

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Looking for a lovely form to appreciate the art of cloisonné? Cloisonné beads, these three-dimensional objects, are available for purchase either individually or strung as a bracelet or necklace. 

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Behold! If you are looking for an escape from the conventional engagement ring, a cloisonné ring can be the perfect substitute. They come in a variety of designs, sometimes with the  enameled focal point set on a metal ring shank, other times with the enamel material going all the way around the band. When wearing one, not an engagement ring, simply don’t overpower the cloisonne piece with tons of colors or busy patterns. 

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We found them for you. One of the jewelry types that allows you to express yourself with uniqueness. Earrings. What better can make a statement piece than a pair of cloisonné earrings, unique, and with a fun pop of color. They will definitely grab some attention. Feel free to wear it with an all-black outfit, as the color splash of the  cloisonne earrings would look spectacular in black.

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Bangles and Cuff Bracelets 

Accessorize yourself with one of the most ancient jewelry making techniques by putting on a bangle or cuff bracelet made with the cloisonné technique. Featuring a larger surface area, expect the designs to be even more captivating.. You can further experiment by pairing your statement-piece with plain bracelets or simpler chains. This will allow the metal and cloisonne artwork to be more visible. 

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The Modern and Antique Cloisonne Value

Some of the most appreciated cloisonne pieces, whether those be pieces of jewelry or not, come from the past centuries. Usually, the older a cloisonne piece is, the more valuable it is. 

Modern cloisonne might have uneven surface color or pale, or the compartments might have been elevated or detached. Now compare that to a cloisonne piece from the 18th century, which has a smooth feel (albeit it is likely old) and vibrant colors. The difference in craftsmanship also determines the price. 

Modern specimens may have a lower-quality metal or alloy base and may even be resin-decorated, which leads to a light-weight piece. Weight is a good tell-tale sign that can help you determine if the cloisonne piece you’re holding is antique or modern. 

The most sought after cloisonne jewelry pieces? If you’re an art collector, keep an eye open for cloisonne pieces from the Ming dynasty (China), the ones from Tsarist Russia, and cloisonne that was produced in Japan during the 15th to 17th century A.D. These pieces are worth thousands of dollars. 

How to Clean Cloisonné Jewelry? 

Cloisonné jewelry pieces are made of a mixture of materials, therefore you should be more careful than usual when cleaning this type of jewelry. Keep in mind the following cleaning tips:

  • Clean and polish your cloisonné enameled pieces only with a soft, lint-free cloth and plain water.
  • Cloisonné jewelry should not be cleaned with any form of chemical or abrasive cleaner. Glass can be etched by chemicals and abrasives.
  • Soak cloisonné jewelry only briefly, as minute gaps in the enamel may absorb liquid and cause harm. Similarly, do not clean your cloisonné pieces using an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner.
  • To preserve the delicate surface of the enamel from being harmed by your other jewelry, place cloisonné objects in separate compartments or jewelry bags. Keep your jewelry in a jewelry roll or a travel organizer when you’re on the go.
  • If you have a cracked enamel antique cloisonné piece, you’ll need to get it professionally fixed. Work with a professional restorer who specializes in this type of work.

Treasuring Cloisonné Forever

So far we touched different topics that revolve around cloisonne jewelry. From learning about its origins, to gaining an understanding of how it is made, everything about cloisonne jewelry is simply breathtaking.

These particular pieces of jewelry, with their multi-colored patterns, create an intricate and delicate adornment that you surely want to treasure forever. Whether you want a nice piece to accessorize yourself, make a statement, or something that grabs attention – cloisonne jewelry will definitely start a conversation. To sum up, cloisonne is one of the most delicate artworks and this is why it deserves to be worn with appreciation and stored with care.