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Perspectives Materials

Champlevé Enameling

A decorative technique that fuses a powdered glassy material into a recess in a metal surface through the application of heat.

Aug 24, 2022

A close up detail of a silver teapot adorned with a symmetrical design of abstract floral motifs rendered in maroon, orange, taupe, and turquoise enamel.

Read about how Tiffany & Co. employed the metalworking technique of champlevé enameling with illustrative artworks and process demonstrations, or watch the video below.


A short but elongated silver teapot with an ivory lid finial adorned with abstract floral motifs rendered in maroon, orange, taupe, and turquoise enamel.

Tiffany & Co. (American, 1837–present). Teapot, ca. 1887. Silver, silver-gilt, enamel and ivory, 4 3/4 x 10 7/8 x 5 1/8 in. (12.1 x 27.6 x 13.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of a Friend of the Museum, 1897 (97.1.1)

Enameling describes the technique of using heat to fuse frit, powdered glass, to the surface of a metal object. In champlevé enameling, a recess is etched, cast, or carved into the body of the metal substrate to be filled with frit.

Enameling is one of the oldest decorative techniques seen across cultures, and it was embraced by designers in the nineteenth century. Edward C. Moore, chief silver designer at Tiffany & Co., was extremely innovative with his work in enamel and even pioneered a technique to create matte finishes. One example of his use of champlevé are the demi-tasse cups from the 1,250-piece Mackay Service, made in 1878.

Composite image of a dazzling gilded and enameled cup and saucer alongside a hand-drawn and colored illustration of the floral design with notes about the colors used in the enameling such as ivory white, dirty yellow, crimson, indian red, purple, gray, dirty blue, turquoise, tea green.

Left: Tiffany & Co. (American, 1837–present). Two cups and saucers from the Mackay Service (detail), 1878. Silver, silver-gilt and enamel, 2 1/2 x 2 x 2 3/4 in. (5.7 x 5.1 x 7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Cranshaw Corporation Gift, 2017 (2017.196.1-.4) Right: “Enameling ‘Champleve,’” depicting Mackay Service cup and saucer. Tiffany & Co., Technical Manual, p. 315 (detail). Gorham Company Archive, John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

To prepare a metal surface to be enameled, it must be cleaned to remove any fingerprints or grime. In champlevé, a recess for the frit needs to be created in the object. This can be done mechanically (by removing metal from the surface with tools), by acid etching, or via electrolytic etching. The letter M has been electrolytically etched into the surface of the piece of copper below.

The enamel frit is prepared first by washing. Washing is the term used for removing the finest grains of powdered glass. These can interfere with the clarity of the final color of the enamel. The frit is poured into a mortar with some distilled water. The powder is gently ground with a pestle and swirled, allowing the heavier grains to settle to the bottom. The water at the top of the mortar is poured out, removing the fine grains along with it. This process is repeated several times.

After washing, drops of methyl cellulose are added to the wet frit to act as a binder. The wet mixture is packed into the recess using a spatula, pick, or brush. Once the recess is full, the object is placed in a kiln and fired.

After a few minutes in the kiln the enameled object is removed and allowed to cool. In the kiln, the wet-packed frit will have become vitreous enamel. Excess enamel on the surface is reduced by stoning, the process of evening out or removing enamel from a surface with an abrasive alundum stone.

Once all the excess enamel is gone, the slurry from the polishing process is rinsed off, and the newly enameled object is wiped dry.


Watch a video of the entire enameling process below, including an introduction to the preceding step of electrolytic etching:


More from Materials and Techniques

Detail of a silver tray featuring the design of a frog seated at the edge of a grassy pond with a queue of mosquitos approaching from a setting sun on the horizon. The surface has a hexagonal-shaped texture. The grass and mosquitoes protrude in a low relief on the tray surface. The front is more heavily sculpted and plated with mixed metals that are silver, gold, and copper in tone.

An Introduction to Metalworking at Tiffany & Co.

A pair of black iron candlesticks with a tapered conical base appear side-by-side. They are adorned with various sinuous floral motives that are modeled in low relief on the surface and surfaced in a variety of silver-, gold-, and copper-toned metals.


A pair of dazzling gilded and enameled cups and saucers adorned with floral designs, a coat of arms, and monogram.

Electrolytic Etching

About the contributors

Ruth Bigelow Wriston Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts and Manager, The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, The American Wing

Former Research Associate for American Decorative Arts, The American Wing

Conservator, Department of Objects Conservation