Cloisonné is produced by drawing a pattern on a base object, such as a vase, which is usually copper. Thin wires are fused or glued over the lines of the drawing and the spaces between the wires are filled with enamel. Cloisonné has been produced in France for about 1,000 years but Japanese cloisonné is the most highly regarded.
Although cloisonné is known to have been made in Japan in about 1600, the art was lost by the 19th century. In 1850, Kaji Tsunekichi determined to rediscover the technique by breaking apart and analysing a piece of Chinese cloisonné. He produced his first saleable pieces in 1838.
From 1838 to 1865 (the “Early Period” of Japanese cloisonné), all of the pieces made were small – usually less than six inches tall. They had thin copper bodies which often warped although heavier copper was used from the late 1850s. Their colours were relatively muted and their glaze subdued. They are very light and feel somewhat rough.
“Middle Period” Japanese cloisonné pieces, from 1865 to 1880, are often large and heavy. More colours are used but they are still subdued. Glazes became smoother and more refined. I 1868, Tsukamoto Kaisuke invented ceramic-based cloisonné.
The period from 1880 to 1914 is regarded as the “Golden Age” of Japanese cloisonné. A multitude of new techniques were developed during this period. Wireless cloisonné was used to give a painted effect. Goldstone (quartz embedded in translucent enamel), tea goldstone (copper embedded in translucent enamel) and repousse (hammering or punching the copper base to give a three dimensional effect) all came into use.