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Cloisonne Factory

An Introduction to Cloisonne Factory

Beijing is the cradle of cloisonne technique. Cloisonne is a famous traditional enamel ware, known as the “Blue of Jingtai” in China, with a history of over 500 years. It was so called because “blue” was the typical colour used for enamelling and “Jingtai” was the reign title of the 7th Ming Emperor. Enamel ware became very popular during the Emperor’s reign. There is a great variety of products, such as vase, jar, bowl, plate, box and ash-tray. They are brilliant in colours and splendid in design. Cloisonne is one of the famous arts and crafts of Beijing.Base-hammering, copper-strip inlay, soldering, enamel-filling, enamel-firing, polishing and gilding, the making of cloisonne requires rather elaborate and complicated processes. The products are featured by excellent quality. The skill and workmanship have been handed down from the Ming Dynasty. Quite a number of new varieties have been created. It enjoys a high reputation both at home and abroad. Built in 1956, the cloisonne factory is the biggest in China with 6 workshops and 1,800 workers. The monthly average wage for a worker is 150 yuan. Apart from wage, each worker can get bonus averaging 90 yuan per month. The workers work 6 days a week and 8 hours a day, and enjoy free medical treatment. Men retire at the age of 60, women at 55. After retirement, they can get a pension according to their working age. The factory runs a kindergarten and a nursery.

The “Beijing Enamel Brand” cloisonne wares are made in this factory. They take up over 70 percent of cloisonne wares produced in China. With a registered trade mark Jingfa, the products won an honourable title of renowned product in Beijing in 1975. They were conferred the title of “top quality product” by the Ministry of Light Indus-try in 1979, and again won the prize of the National Hundred-Flower Golden Cup in 1981. In the factory there is a gift shop for visitors.

The first step is body making. The material used for making the body is copper, because copper is easily hammered and stretched. This step requires a sound judgement in shaping and uniformity of thickness and weight. It is in fact the work of the copper smith. The only difference is that when an article is well-shaped, the copper smith’s work is finished, whereas the cloisonne craftsman’s work is just on the start.

The second step is filigree soldering. This step requires great care and high creativeness. The artisan adheres copper strips onto the body. These strips are of 1/16 inch in diameter and of lengths as the artisan desires. The strips or filigree thus adhered make up a complicated but complete pattern. The artisan has a blueprint in mind and he can make full use of his experience, imagination and aesthetic view insetting the copper strips on the body.

The third step is to apply the colour which is known as enamel filling. The colour or enamel is like the glaze on ceramics. It is called falang. Its basic elements are boric acid, saltpetre and alkaline. Due to the difference in the minerals added, the colour differs accordingly. Usually one with much iron will turn grey, with uranium, yellow, with chromium, green, with zinc, white, with bronze-, blue, with gold or iodine, red. In time of filling, all the colours, ground before-hand into minute powder and contained in plates, are placed in front of the workers and are then applied to the little compartments separated by filigree.

The fourth step is enamel firing. This is done by putting the article, with its enamel fillings, to the crucible. After a short moment, the copper body will turn red. But after firing, the enamel in the little compartment will sink down a bit. That will require a refilling. This process will go on repeatedly until the little compartments are finally filled.

The fifth step is polishing. The first polish is with energy. Its aim is to make the filigree and the filled compartments even. The whole piece is again put to fire. Polish once more with a whet stone. Finally, use a piece of hard carbon to polish again so as to obtain some lustre on the surface of the article.

The sixth step is gilding. This is done by placing the article in fluid of gold or silver. Add electric current. The exposed parts of the filigree and the metal fringes of the article will be smoothly and evenly gilded. After that, the metal part of the article will not get rusty. Then the article will again undergo another electroplating and a slight polish.    

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