Here I am going to show you how I enamel a piece of my jewellery. I am starting with a sterling (.925) silver ring that I have already made. When enameling remember to use enameling solder when constructing your piece otherwise the solder joints will not withstand the constant firings in the kiln!
Below is the ring that I will be using. Before enameling you must make sure that the metal is completely clean so I put it in some safety pickle for a few mins.
The next stage is to prepare the enamel. I am using powdered enamel, this needs to be washed, rinsed and ground down some more before it is ready to use. I grind the powder in a mortar and pestle.
The enamel powder needs to be washed in distilled or purified water. This ensures that the transparent enamel colours really shine. If the enamel is not washed properly the colours will be cloudy. I got a 5 litre container of purified water from the chemist for around £4. Boots stock this but sometimes you need to pre-order it.
Once you have washed and prepared your enamel then put it into a container to keep it safe and free from dust. Dont forget to label it with the colour code too so you know which colour/brand it is for next time!
Now it is time to place the enamel onto your metal. The powder should be wet, with a thin layer of purified water over the top in the pot. Sometimes I use a brush and sometimes I use a cocktail stick to place the enamel onto the piece. For this ring I used a cocktail stick as this made it easier to get into the edges of the design. Try to place the enamel in a single or very thin layer of grains. Use the tension of the water to help spread the grains so that there are no gaps but also no huge piles as the enamel will not flow and settle as paint would. Once I am happy that the powder is thin but covering the area completely I then place the piece on top of the hot kiln to dry.
Painting the grains of enamel powder onto the ring
So here is the ring with the wet enamel laid on. This is now put on top of the hot kiln to dry out. If you put it in the kiln and there is any moisture still in the enamel powder then the enamel will crack and ruin your work. This will also happen if you layer the enamel too thickly or cool the piece too quickly after you remove it from the hot kiln. Dont get too excited by the colours at this stage as they wont be anything like this once they have been in the kiln! Before I do any enameling I always test the colours, this needs to be done on the same metal that you are making your final piece in as enamel behaves differently on copper to silver for example.
The enamel powder dry and ready to go in the kiln.
Each kiln is different and you will need to get to know your own kiln to work out the temperatures and timing for your pieces. As a guide my kiln is set here at 810c and I put this ring in for 2mins 20secs on each firing. Here is the ring after the first firing. When I take it out of the kiln I just put the piece on the heat proof tile in front of the kiln and leave it until it is cool. This took about 20mins I think, I just usually go and do something else or make a cup of tea and come back and see if I can pick it up.
The colours will keep changing as the piece cools so dont get too worried by the colour at this stage either.
Once the piece is cooled I then put it in the pickle again.For some reason putting it in the pickle again at this stage stops the oxidisation of the silver on subsequent firings. Not sure why it doesnt work on the first firing, maybe someone could let me know why?
Anyway I wasnt too happy with the lighter shade of green on the ring so I did a second layer of enamel over the top but this time I only used the dark green colour over the entire piece.
The second layer of enamel placed on top of the previous layer.
I dried the enamel in the same way again and then fired the ring for another 2mins 20secs with the kiln at 810c. Here it is when it has just come out of the kiln again.
After it had cooled I polished it up and its ready to go to the London Assay Office for hallmarking now.