Every day at Isadoras is Throwback Thursday, as we spend our days playing with the pieces of the past. But I thought I would begin taking an extra moment each Thursday to share a bit of jewelry history. Today I would like to talk about niello, a jewelry technique that I am currently obsessed with.
So what is niello?
The short answer is that niello is both a black metal alloy and a piece of metal decorated with niello.
a Victorian niello watch chain
So what is the long “ish” answer?
A labor intensive and artful way to create jewelry, silver is etched or engraved. Then the niello alloy (The niello alloy is composed of copper, silver & lead that is mixed multiple times with sulfur to create a black power or paste.) is worked into the silver jewelry’s grooves. The metal is heated so the black metal alloy is hardened within the jewelry’s engraving creating a high contrast look, almost enamel-like, but distinctly different. The piece of jewelry is then polished.
Antique niello cigarette case
Sometimes I have an easy time expressing why I love something and sometimes I find it very difficult to put into words why something captures my imagination. With niello it is the latter. But I’ve attempted to articulate my thoughts because I think niello is too beautiful not to be spoken of.
Victorian niello silver chain
I think some jewelry is built on its statement value or the force of its idea. But with niello I feel like it is all in the details. Sure there are a lot of ways to express the contrast between silver and black and yet the way niello expresses this contrast is subtly its own. Unlike enamel where the black is layered over the metal, the black of the niello alloy and the silver exist on the same plane, creating a pattern, that almost tapestry-like, is built into the fabric of the piece. The pieces therefore age together and exist together in a holistic way. I think this is why I like niello so much. I love how metal looks after it has been worn for many years, the act of being loved giving it a different and richer luster than newness. And with niello you get both the complexity of multiple tones of metal and the luster of age in each piece of antique jewelry. -xo Miko
Please visit our website for more beautiful niello jewelry!