Look through your jewellery box or that old shoebox you have containing sentimental belongings and there is a pretty good chance you’ll find a necklace, ring or a badge adorned with enamel. Enamelling is one of our world’s history’s oldest art forms used as far back as Ancient Egypt. The Byzantines, known for their iconic religious artwork, used enamelling in place of precious stone and you will also find enamel on many of the magnificent Ming Dynasty pieces. More recognisably, Faberge used the richly hued enamel in his eggs and Tiffany in their fabulous jewellery. Enamelled jewellery from as early as the 11th century BC has been found in Cyprus, still intact and vibrant in colour.
Not to be confused with painted glass, enamel is exceedingly durable, it is scratch resistant, smooth, hard, and the colour will not fade, is easy to clean, as it is chemical resistant and cannot burn. In fact, after the catastrophic fire at Kings Cross station, the London Underground’s decorations and signage is made from enamel for functionality as well as making it recognisable. Made by fusing melted powdered glass to a metal, usually copper, bronze, gold or silver and furnaced at a high heat of around 800 degrees Celsius, it leaves a thin layer of glass. Minerals like cobalt, chromium and iron are added to make the beautiful, lasting and vibrant colours. Tried and true, this process has not changed much over the centuries.
Enamel badges are given for high profile promotions and for decorating our men and women of the military as service awards, those of which are sought out as antiques and collector pieces and are sold for a high price on the Internet and at auctions. You may also own an enamel badge representing your favourite football team or a club that you belong to, a charity you have supported, the school that you went to and for an achievement in Girl Guides. Because they are made to last a lifetime and beyond, unlike a paper certificate, they are something we hold on to. I still have my enamel award badge I was given by the RLSS about thirty years ago for water safety. We wear them with pride; it represents a belonging, an achievement and a showing of support.
This year at the London Summer Olympics, a long-time tradition dating back to 1896 of badge trading and wearing was continued amongst the journalists and staff. Worn like trophies to show how many Olympics they have been a part of, it is not merely a hobby to collect as many as possible, it is an obsession. To show their support to our athletes and Team GB, our politicians all wore an enamel badge with the 2012 logo emblazoned on their lapels.
So, take good care of your enamel badges as they are part of a world wide historic tradition and an ancient art form, but also wear them with pride as they will not damage or fade with the years.