Decorative enamelling, one of the oldest and mostly highly appreciated arts in the world, affords yet another use of copper. Specimens of exquisite workmanship, which still retain the brilliant colours of the enamels despite the wear and tear of the centuries, may be seen in museums and collections everywhere - some examples are almost priceless.
Art enamelling is usually applied to plates of a pure metal. Copper is the most favoured material but much beautiful work has also been achieved with gold and silver and to a lesser extent with bronze.
There are three principal enamelling techniques. First, champlevé, in which parts of the surface of the plate are cut away to leave a solid raised pattern. The hollows are then filled in with colours, and the article is afterwards cleaned, smoothed and baked. Next, there is cloisonné. In this case thin strips of metal are soldered edge-on to the object in order to produce the pattern, the spaces between being then filled in, and the whole baked as above. In the third class are the painted enamels, a branch for which Limoges was famous for hundreds of years, particularly during the 15th and 16th Centuries. This fine art has been revived during our own time, two of its greatest exponents being Alexander Fisher and Sir Hubert Herkomer. Painted enamels are usually copies of pictures, applied to flat or slightly curved surfaces such as a shallow dish; and the base is invariably a copper plate. The article is first coated all over with a continuous layer of plain enamel, on which the design is added by successive layers of colour. A splendid collection of old Limoges ware may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London.