Over the past few years, the combination of 14k or 18k gold and brightly colored enamel—made, in most cases, using the common, relatively inexpensive technique of cold enamel—has become so popular among designers that in fine jewelry circles, the look borders on ubiquitous.
That may explain why a handful of jewelers are now venturing into more challenging territory by experimenting with plique-à-jour (French for “letting in daylight”). Of the ancient enamel practices, including champlevé and cloisonné, the plique-à-jour technique is often regarded as the most difficult. Yet lately, it’s been popping up in more fashion-forward collections that promise to make the style more wearable.
The Los Angeles–based designer Andy Lifschutz began his foray into plique-à-jour in 2019. At the Las Vegas jewelry shows in late August, he showcased a number of beguiling pieces—the latest chapter of his 2-year-old Speed of Color collection—featuring the stained glass–like cells of plique- à-jour, which he initially regarded as too delicate for anything but the most formal occasions.
“Plique-à-jour was, to me, hands off, you can’t touch this, or you can only use it on a really special occasion,” says Lifschutz, whose collection, Andy Lif Jewelry, is manufactured in Los Angeles. “In every other enamel technique, there’s a solid backing for the molten glass to rest upon when it is fired into the kiln or, if it’s cold enamel, when it’s painted on. With plique-à-jour, there’s no backing. You’ve got a minute window of time before you have to pull that piece from the kiln.”
In spite of how demanding the technique is—or, rather, because of it—Lifschutz embarked on a campaign “to make plique-à-jour everyday wearable.”
He wasn’t alone. Ann Korman, the designer behind LA-based Ark Fine Jewelry, spent nearly two years perfecting the plique-à-jour pieces in the collection of earrings and rings she debuted at the Couture show in Las Vegas. Like Lifschutz, she was drawn to plique-à-jour’s stained-glass effect: “Light shines through the transparent enamel brilliantly,” she says.
At Lord Jewelry, also based in LA, plique-à-jour has been in rotation for some time, reflecting designer Sinork Agdere’s devotion to artisanal crafts in general and his mastery of enamel techniques in particular.
The designer’s Wild for Life collection includes rings featuring a moth, a butterfly, and a grasshopper rendered in the distinctive translucent colors of plique-à-jour.
“The play of color created by the light shining through the plique-à-jour enamel is enchanting, joyful, and playful,” says Lena Agdere, Sinork’s daughter and business partner. “Its natural translucency, similar to that found in nature, makes it perfect for nature-inspired jewelry such as butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects.”
It’s this extra dimensionality that entices designers to work with plique-à-jour, despite its complexity. Unlike cloisonné, which also uses cells to contain the enamel, plique-à-jour’s lack of backing means that when light shines through the translucent or transparent enamel, it creates a breathtaking flicker of color on the nearest surface (often a hand or a cheek).
“If you’re wearing our light blue Cobra hoop or earring, it will show on the side of your face,” says Lifschutz. “The light will be different if it’s sunset and will change throughout the day. You should hear how many compliments my clients get. Wear these pieces if you’d like some positive feedback.”
Top: Hue Do You Love pendant in 18k gold with 3.4 ct. Madagascar aquamarine with matching plique-à-jour enamel and 0.15 ct. marquise diamond on 18k gold chain; $7,500; Andy Lif JewelryFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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