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Cloisonné

Cloisonné Cup
 by Margarete Seeler
 from Vol. 5, No. 5, October 1986

Part 1

     Who has not dreamt of that nobly shaped chalice, enameled all over with immaculate transparents. . .maybe just one fine gold line winding around its outside...so elegantly understated, so utterly simple. . .That is POETRY.  It would neither work nor last.  A chalice has to withstand very hard use, and maybe even abuse.  It must be carefully planned.  That is why I have made this cup a teaching example.

Figure 1

     We use this cup at festive occasions, when everybody takes a sip from it.  A nice translation of the Jewish KIDDUSH cup into every family's life.

     The design is as simple as can be; a very large number of small shapes, easy to fit to the curved surface.  I have been thinking of a tree with roots, a trunk and a blossoming crown in which creatures live.  Of course you could have that winding line, but it must be broken up into small hairpin-like shapes, all curved to fit safely to the body of the cup.  But even then, it would be wise to cover the whole surface with a net of fine cloisonne shapes, touching each other.  The Orientals have used this concept for hundreds of years and with good reason.

     Anneal the wires well, so they don't stretch during firing.  When the cup is assembled of its many parts, be sure never to put any pressure on the enameled parts.  A metal rim or bezel, etc., will take care of this problem.  If hit, only one or two of the cells will be damaged, and possibly the net of wires would take the impact.  Such small defects can be repaired invisibly without refiring.  If there is severe damage, the cup can be easily taken apart, repaired, reshaped, fired again, gold-plated and put together again.  Our "dream cup" would have cracked all over and been a complete loss.

     Counter enamel works fine for 2 or 3 firings.  However, it would be a miracle if it remained perfect in the many firings and stonings of a chalice.  It would be too much of a risk.

     Religious cups must be gold inside (gold plating the inside will do the job).  Wine may leave spots on enamel, and on should not drink from enamel if it is not lead-free.  Pure, thick gold needs no counter enamel, it holds enamel because it expands similar to it.  The better the material, the easier the work.  Hagstoz in Philadelphia produces a non-tarnishing 18 carat gold (25% is fine silver; no other metal).  It is beautiful to work with.  The cloisonne wires remain clean, and transparents are excellent over it except for reds, pink, oranges and some purples.  These transparents should be fired over a prefired coat of flux for silver.  The same holds true for pure silver, but silver changes shape and size in the furnace.  I use only medium to soft enamels with fine silver (that means melting at low to medium heat).

     My answer to all these problems is the lining cup, which is inserted into the outer, enameled cup.  I will now stop talking and demonstrate with photography and pen.  By the way, if you understand this particular construction, you can dream up almost anything safely, whole sculptures if you wish.  I have avoided complicated skills, like raising metal, and have kept to a very few essential skills:  clean soldering, fitting, and thinking.

     The viewer sees only the very skin of a piece.  He has no idea how much thought and skill is below this appearance.  Fun too.

     A careful construction drawing is the first step in the making of this cup, Figure 1, below.  Once this is done and clear in our head, we can proceed part by part.  Rims, etc., are provided for all spaces to be enameled.

Cup schematic

     A.  The INNER CUP, to be polished and gold-plated, holds the NUT HOUSING.
     B.  The OUTER CUP is to be enameled.
     C.  SPACE between CUP and BOLT, to avoid touching the bottom of the cup.
     D.  The STEEL NUT is soldered into the bottom of the HOUSING.
     E.  The BOLT is the backbone of the cup and holds all parts together.
     F.  RING to cover joints.

     I like to snap in a small gold-plated cover over the nut, which can be easily removed if disassembling is needed.

Figure 2
Figure 2
     Here we have the "outer cup," which will be enameled, and the lining cup, which will be polished and goldplated.  There are "sketchy" designs below, Figure 3,  and some technical details you'll find on the scheme drawing.

 

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 4
     The outer cup received a rim on top and a disk at the bottom.  The enameling is safe between these.  The cup is ready for a coat of flux outside, and counter enamel inside.  Do not enamel above the rim.

 

 

Figure 5

Figure 5
     The lining cup receives the rim to be visible above the enamel.  It is soldered after very carefully checking the exact width needed to insert the unenameled rim of the enameled cup.

 

Part 2

 

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