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Metal crafts, which mainly include cloisonné, filigree inlays, variegated copperware, tinwork, iron pictures, golden and silver accessories, etc, play a special role among China's arts and crafts.


Cloisonne is a kind of enamelware where the design colors are separated by thin metal strips. Its major processes include making a red copper roughcast, forming patterns on it using thin copper strips, filling patterns with different colors, firing, and polishing. Cloisonné integrates bronze and porcelain skills, and traditional painting and etching. It is the pinnacle of traditional Chinese handicrafts.

Cloisonnefirst originated in Beijing. The earliest piece of cloisonne was made in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), while the best examples were produced during the Xuande reign (1426-1456) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). During the Jingtai reign (1426-1456) of the Ming, handicraftsmen found a dark blue enamel that gave cloisonné a gorgeous, solemn appeal, which is still used today.

During the Qianlong reign (1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when pure copper was used as a roughcast, the art of cloisonné reached its pinnacle.

Beijingers still like to decorate their homes with cloisonnearticles and young women adore cloisonné bracelets and earrings. Cloisonné articles also make great gifts.

People are attracted to its beauty and glittering thin copper strips.
In Beijing, most hotel shops and tourist stores sell cloisonné articles, which can be as big as sacrificial utensils, screens, tables and chairs, or as small as chopsticks, earrings, candy boxes, toothpicks and smoking paraphernalia. They are works of art with a practical value. Recently, handicraftsmen have developed a multi-coloring technique to make cloisonné , which has resulted in more refined and gorgeous products.

The Process

As one of the famous arts and crafts of Beijing, cloisonné is a form of famous traditional enamelware with a history of over 500 years. The making of cloisonné involves an elaborate and complex process, which includes base-hammering, copper-strip inlays, soldering, enamel filling, enamel firing, polishing and gilding.

Base hammering is the first step in the making of cloisonné. The material used for the body is copper because copper is very malleable and ductile. This step requires sound judgment in the shaping and uniformity of thickness and weight. It is, in fact, much like the work of a coppersmith. The only difference is that when an article is shaped, the coppersmith's work is finished, whereas the cloisonné craftsman's work has just begun.

The second step is filigree soldering. This step requires great care and high creativity. The artisan pastes copper strips to the body that are 1/16 of an inch in diameter and a desired length chosen by the artisan, making up a complex but complete pattern. The artisan creates a blueprint in his or her mind and makes full use of his/her experience, imagination and aesthetic perspective in setting the copper strips on the body.

The third step is applying color, which is known as enamel filling. The color is like the glaze on ceramics and is called "enamel". Its basic elements are boric acid, saltpeter and alkaline. Due to the differences in the added minerals, the colors differ accordingly. Usually, iron will turn gray; uranium, yellow; chromium, green; zinc, white; bronze, blue; and gold or iodine, red. The colors are ground into powder and deposited into the cells separated by filigree.

The fourth step is enamel firing, which is achieved by putting the article with its enamel filling into a kiln. Soon after, the copper body turns red, but after firing, the enamel in the little compartments will sag slightly, which will require re-filling. This process will go on repeatedly until the little cells are full.

The fifth step is polishing, which begins with emery. Polishing aims to even out the filigree and the filled compartments. The whole piece is again put into the fire and then polished once more with a whet-stone. Finally, a piece of hard carbon is used to polish the article a final time to obtain some luster on the surface.

The sixth step is gilding, which is done by placing the article in gold or silver fluid, charged with an electric current. The exposed parts of the filigree and the metal fringes of the article will again undergo another electroplating and a slight polishing.

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Cloisonne - The Art of Decorative Enameling
Cloisonné is the decorative art of applying enamel of all colors to the surface of a copper or bronze object which is then fired to become a bright and colorful work of art. This ranks as one of China's major contributions to the world's fine arts.
Filigree Inlays
Filigree inlays, also called "refined metal crafts", are made of gold, silver and other materials inlaid with various kinds of precious stones, pearls, or woven patterns.
Iron Picture
Iron picture, also called "Wuhu Iron Picture," is a cross between painting and sculpture. It was first created by Tang Tianchi, a blacksmith from Wuhu city of Anhui Province in the mid-17th century.
Variegated Copperware
Variegated copperwares are the traditional folk artworks unique to Southwest China's Yunnan Province, and boast a history of more than 300 years. The process of making variegated copperware is complicated and strict, requiring high-quality copper alloy as its base material.

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