How Was Cloisonne Made?

The origins of cloisonné date back over 2,000 years. However, the Chinese have been using the process for over 500 years and have further developed it. The Ming and Qing Dynasties are given credit for its ultimate acceptance and development. The most valuable examples from China are the blue examples of the Ming Dynasty. The color of these items is known as "Blue of Jintai." They are unique in world history.
The process consists of 6 basic stages, Shaping, soldering, enameling, firing, polishing and finishing.
The cloisonné process is as follows:
1. Creation of the base shape. Modern craftsmen use mainly copper because of its ability to be shaped. Copper can be hammered, stretched and spun into many shapes. The process does not require understanding in metallurgy and other technical matters but an ability of the craftsman to create the shape and retain a reasonably wall thickness. A copper-smith is usually the craftsmen for this job. Other metals can be used.
2. Soldering the filigree. Filligree is the term given to the thin copper strips (less than 1/16" or 0.16 mm) that are attached to the hammered copper shape. The job of the filigree is to determine the pattern of the colors that will be added later. The pattern must be completed at this stage.
3. Filling with Enamel. Minerals are mixed with different elements (such as boric acid and alkaline) to create the required color. These are placed in the small sections made by the filigrees. The most common color combinations are: Iodine (red), iron (grey), zinc (white), chromium (green), bronze (blue).
4. Firing the Enamel. The item is placed into a kiln and heated so that the enamel is formed.
5. Polishing the item. A multi-stage polishing process is employed. Firstly the item is polished with a course media and depending on the required luster, the item may be finally polished with a whetstone media. Polishing removes all sharp and enhances luster. At times the polishing stage takes the longest time.
6. Finishing the item. The item may still have some metal exposed. Several processes including electroplating are used to prevent corrosion.
Over the years, the process had not altered significantly. The introduction and development of a range of raw materials, eg. Copper, thinner and more flexible wire, and minerals (rather than glass, which was originally used) has led to a better product.

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