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An Introduction to Cloisonne

Cloisonne is an enamel ware, in which the colors of the design are kept apart by thin metal strips. Cloisonne originated in Beijing, and the technique reached its perfection as a result of the efforts of Chinese artisans. Chinese Cloisonne is now the standard by which the quality and beauty of Cloisonne is measured worldwide. It ranks as one of China's major contributions to the world's fine arts.

Major work processes
This is, in fact, the work of a coppersmith. As copper is easily hammered and stretched, it is employed to make the body of cloisonne. A sound judgment is required because it determines the uniformity of thickness and weight. In contrast to the work of a coppersmith which is ended when the article is shaped, base-hammering is just the beginning in the making of cloisonne.

Filigree Soldering
The second step can be compared to embroidery, as both require great care and high creativity. The only difference is that instead of embroidering on silk, the cloisonne craftsman adheres copper strips onto the copper body. 1/16 inch in diameter, these strips are shaped into what the artisan requires, usually a complicated but complete pattern. With a blueprint in mind, the craftsman exerts his experience and imagination in setting the copper strips on the body.

Enamel Filling

Then comes to enamel filling, which requires such basic elements as boric acid, saltpeter and alkaline. Due to the different minerals added, cloisonne appears different in color. Usually one with much iron will turn gray, with uranium, yellow, with chromium, green, with bronze, blue, with zinc, white, with gold or iodine, red. After ores are ground into fine powder and contained in plates, workers apply them on the little compartments separated by filigrees.

Enamel Firing

Put the article to the crucible and in a moment the copper body will turn red. In time of firing re-filling is repeatedly required, as the enamel in the little compartments will sink down a little after firing.

To make the filigree and the filled compartments even, the artisan has to polish the half finished products again and again. First emery is used. Then after the whole piece is put to fire again, a whetstone is employed for polishing. In the end, a piece of hard carbon is required in order that the article will obtain some luster on the surface.


Lastly, place the article in gold or silver fluid with changing electric current so as to keep the cloisonne free from rust. Another electroplating and a slight polish are demanded for the exposed parts of the filigree and the metal fringes of the article.

The making of Cloisonne integrates bronze and porcelain-working skills, traditional painting and etching. It is the pinnacle of traditional Chinese handicraft. Today cloisonne technique is associated with the sculpture of wood, jade, ivory and lacquer. It is exported to many countries as a favorite medium for ornaments.

The earliest extant Cloisonne was made in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The best was made during the Xuande period (1426-1456) of the Ming dynasty. At the Jingtai period (1426-1456) of the Ming the emperor who was very much interested in bronze-casting techniques, improved the color process, and created the bright blue that appealed to the Oriental aesthetic sense. During the reigns of Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), cloisonne improved and reached its artistic summit. Colors were more delicate, filigrees more flexible and fluent.

People live in Beijing like to decorate their homes with Cloisonne articles. Young women love Cloisonne bracelets and earrings. Cloisonne articles are often used as gifts, too. People are attracted by their blue beauty and glittering thin copper strips.

In Beijing, most shops in hotels as well as tourist stores sell Cloisonne articles, which can be as big as sacrificial utensils, screens tables and chairs, and as small as chopsticks, earrings, candy boxes, toothpicks and smoking tools. They are works of art as well as articles with use value. Handicraftsmen have of late developed a multi-coloring technique for the making of Cloisonne which has resulted in more refined and gorgeous products. When you travel in Beijing should visit Liulichang Culture Street and Wangfujing Street you will find a lot of beautiful Cloisonne articles here.

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