Plique à jour is a vitreous, custom jewelry technique. It is custom enamel suspended in a framework, resembling stained glass. I work in this jewelry style because I love the unparalleled look.
The earliest example of plique à jour we have is from the Early Middle Ages in Russia, but the process was lost with the Mongolian invasion.
It was rediscovered in 1295 at the Vatican court. It is about this time that it acquired the name Plique à jour, meaning ‘window of light’ in some translations and ‘clear enamel’ in others.
The technique was lost again after the Renaissance but rediscovered (or reinvented) in the Art Nouveau period in the 20th Century. Masters such as René Lalique created custom plique à jour with incredible delicacy. He used motifs such as dragonflies and flowers to create contemporary jewelry and hair ornaments.
Many of his pieces are on display in museums and influence modern plique à jour artists.
Jewelry artists rarely work in plique à jour these days due to its difficulty, high failure rate, and time-consuming nature.
Modern plique à jour begins with a lacework of metal, usually pure gold or silver. The framework is made by painstakingly soldering each wire into place, or by carving thin wax filigree and casting it. Once the filigree framework is assembled, the enameling can begin.
Tiny amounts of ground glass enamel are mixed with water and placed into the tiny ‘cells’ created by the framework. Surface tension holds it in place.
The piece is then gently placed in a kiln (oven) at 1350* -1450*F. Once the enamel has melted, the piece is removed and cooled.
The melted enamel will pull towards the walls, leaving a hole in the center of each cell. Multiple layers must be added and refired until the cell is full. Then the piece is ground down, removing excess enamel and giving it a smooth surface. Once that is done, a final firing is performed, to gloss the enamel.
This produces contemporary plique à jour jewelry that looks like no other.
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