Handcrafted Indian Enamel Jewellery

Item Code: NAE421
Author: Rita Devi Sharma And M. Varadarajan
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788174362476
Pages: 141 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch X 9.5 inch
Weight 770 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description
About the book

Beauty and glamour are the enduring qualities of jewellery. Kundan and enamelling are two outstanding forms of crafting jewelry. While kundan is used to decorate the front of an ornament, enamelling is used for decorating both sides. Enamelling not only enhances the value and beauty of jewelry, but also serves as a parameter to test the purity of precious metals.

Introduced by the Europeans, enamelling was widely used duing the Mughal period. The best specimens of enameled jewelry have been produced duting this period. Surprisingly, little has been written about this art. Hnadicrafted Indian Enamel jewelry examines the history and varied techniques of enamelling and also discusses techniques that closely resemble enamelling has deterioted, yet the demand for quality work, found only in old pieces, may lend a new lease of life to this art form.

About the Author

Rita Devi Sharma is an epigraphist, numismatist and jewelry expert. She has revived the 'Takari Script' and her project on Himachal jewelry collection in the National Museum, Delhi, she has discussed the art of enamelling with Shri Jayant Chowlera, a jewelry expert, and enamellers across India. Her next publication is the Catalougue of 3421 punch marked coins of the Bharwani Hoard in the National Museum.

Muthuswamy Varadarajan was in the IAS from 1956 to 1991. He was then Member, National minorities Commission. As Secretary culture to the Government of India in the'80s, he orchestrated the Festivals of India, and exhibitions including the Henry Moore exhibition in India. A scholar of art and religion, he has several Carnatic music compositions to his credit, and in 1982, edited and published Nadopasana one, on India classical music and dance. Currently, he is Chairman, Expert Committee, National Museum, Delhi.


Indian Jewellery is known the world over for its diversitry of range and craftsmanship. Of all the different forms of jewellery that are crafted in India, enamelling is perhaps one of the most outstanding styles in brilliance and exercise. However, as there is no accurate, verifiable history of enamelling in India or in the surrounding regions, the exact date of its origin in the subcontinent becomes difficult to pinpoint. When did this fascinating craft start in India? This question is worth debating it is generally accepted that the technique of enamelling is not an indigenous Indian craft but had its origins abroad.

In his book, Industrial Art Of India, Sir George Birdwood observes: 'It is probably a Turanian art. It was introduced into China, according to the Chinese, by Yueh-chih, and was carried as early as, if not, earlier into India. From Assyria it probably passed into Egypt, and through the Phoenicians to Europe. Sidon was as famed for its glass, as was the Tyre renowned for its purple; and the Sidonians were not only acquainted with glass blowing, but also with the art of enamelling in glass in imitation of the precious stones.'

Sir George Birdwood also comments on the quality and the brilliance of Indian enamellings: 'It is the mingled brilliances of its greens, and blues, and reds which, laid on pure gold, make the superlative excellence and beauty of Jaipur enamelling. Even Paris cannot paint gold with the ruby, coral red, emerald green and turquoise and sapphire blues of the enamels of ]aipur, Lahore, Benares and Lucknow.'

He goes on to say: ' ... the art is practised everywhere in India, at Lucknow, Benares, at Multan and Lahore, and in Kangra and Cashmere, but nowhere in such perfection as at Jaipur.'

The earliest samples of enamel using glass can be traced back to before 2500 Be to the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations. The craftsmen of those times inlaid coloured pieces of glass in small cells that were shaped by turning the edges of the thin gold sheets upwards. These upward turned metal edges also imparted the form to the ornament. Another method they employed was using little strips of gold sheet set on the edge of the front plate and soldered onto the back plate. Perhaps it did not occur to the craftsman that thesecompartments could be filled with coloured glass and fused in situ.

It was a goldsmith from Cyprus who, around the third century Be, initiated the technique of enamelling by fusing glass on to the metal substance. The earliest examples of this technique are six enamelled gold rings, which were discovered in 1952 in a Mycenaean tomb at Konkila in Cyprus. This discovery was a milestone in understanding the evolution of this fascinating craft.

Enamel jewellery was first introduced to Greece in the fifth century Be, and an example is a hair ornament of this period made of gold and silver, now in the collection of the Birmingham Museum. This is decorated in the shape of shields in gold cloisonne around an enamelled lion's neck. Another example is a golden sceptre of the fourth century Be, from Tarentum, now housed in the British Museum, London. The sceptre is in the shape of a cylindrical shaft covered with fine filigree work. On each intersection of the gold wires is a small dot of blue enamel. However, the use of enamel in Greek jewellery is minimal as there have been no findings of any large enamelled object from Greece till date.

In the first century Be, when the Romans subdued the Celtic tribes of Britain, they found equestrian trappings of bronze, armour and jewellery used by the Celts decorated with enamel. Some examples of these items sport spots of red enamel fixed in the recesses cut into the cast bronzes of the bridle bit or a mirror. A beautiful example of such work is from Birdlip, currently in the Gloucester Museum. The most striking examples of beautiful champleve enamel of later eras are the hanging bowls found in the grave of a presumably Anglo- Saxon king from the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, dated to the seventh century, in Suffolk, England, now in the collection of the British Museum.

There is no mention of enamelling In early Indian texts before the fifteenth century. The only available reference found on this subject is in the Ain-i-Akbari written in the sixteenth century by Abu'l Fazl, during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. According to Fazl, ' ... the meenakar or enameller works on cups, flagons, rings and other articles with gold and silver. He polishes his delicate enamels of various colours, sets them in their suitable place and puts them to fire. This is done several times over.'

Manuel Keen, author of The Treasury of the World, notes that, 'Despite the lack of a pre eXisting tradition of enamelling in India, the art had already become established in the Imperial workshop during Akbar's reign.' This suggests that not only was enamelling practised during the reign of Emperor Akbar but that it was a well- established art all over the Mughal Empire as the technique of enamelling is believed to have spread to other parts of the country from the imperial Mughal karkhanas.

The jewellery produced In the imperial karkhanas combined Mughal finesse with a love for the sumptuous meenakari, or enamelling, a unique combination of gems, enamel pigments and precious metals. This became a quintessential symbol of the Mughal version of 'paradise on earth'. Confirming to Islamic precepts, this paradise was a celestial garden with all manner of trees, a riot of flowers and colours of every imaginable hue. The motif consisted primarily of flowers, plants, scrolling vines and animal forms. Though an established craft, enamelling had not come into its own in the early Mughal period. It was Shah jahari's aesthetic version that transformed enamelling into a sophisticated art form, which embellished a range of items from precious jewellery to imperial thrones. Borrowing ideas from his two major passions, architecture and fine gems, Shah jahan took motifs from one and colours from the other, to inspire an art form, which henceforth was completely identified with Mughal aesthetics. (Dance of the Peacock: jewellryTraditions of lndia.)

Different styles and fashions travelled with their owners along with craftsmen from their regions as people relocated either for monetary reasons or because of marriage alliances. The Mughal court saw the advantages of strengthening and expanding the boundaries of the Mughal Empire through alliances of marriage with Hindu princesses and with the granting of high positions to the Hindu nobility. 'During the eighteenth century, the artistic productions of most of the Empire had their foundations entirely in Mughal aesthetics. Some areas, such as Rajasthan, were able to resist being completely overwhelmed, though it is difficult to isolate specifically Rajput forms or motifs on unprovenanced jewellery. This is because Rajasthan undoubtedly contributed a great deal to the formation of the hybrid Mughal style: its princesses married to Mughal royalty and its rulers had taken high positions at Court, both bringing their jewellery and, probably, their craftsmen with them.' (Stronge, Smith and Harle.)

Early characteristics of enamelling containing Greco-Roman influences were also known in India. This can be observed from the various beads found in excavated Buddhist sites at Taxila in Pakistan. There are two types of beads: white enamel on a black cornelian background, and a black enamelled pattern on a greyish white agate base. The enamelled designs are mainly pentagonal and hexagonal circles with dots in the centre or fine rows of little spots or two to three strips around the beads to form the symbol of the trinity. This type of enamelling has an almost distant relationship with the Indian enamelling of the Mughal period.

Certain experts have traced the origin of enamelling to the thirteenth century on the basis of a similar technique of manufacturing ornamental glazed tiles, which incidentally were also an important feature of Sultanate architecture. It is thus possible that the roots of Indian enamelling go back to that era .

.• Meanwhile in Europe, the art of enamelling had become a highly developed skill. Thus it was natural for Indian craftsmen to turn to European master craftsmen to learn their art and technique. So well did they learn the art that, in due course, they outshone their teachers. The many varieties of enamels of the Mughal period were based directly on the highly developed schools of enamelling in the West. The diverse unbroken lines of the different ranges of enamels can be used as a window to trace the evolution of the technique of enamelling through the centuries. umerous existing specimens of Mughal jewellery point to this, with the forms being Indian and the designs and colour schemes being purely European.

In one miniature painting of Murshidabad now in the collection of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, awab Aliverdi Khan IS shown holding the turban jewel of his grandson and designated successor, Siraj-ud-Daula. The jewel is almost identical to the one given to Admiral Watson in 1757 by Mir ja'far, the Nawab who ousted Siraj-ud-Daula with the help of the British. This shows that provincial rulers took over stock imperial imagery in the way they were depicted in the painting

. With each successive political change and wars waged by foreign invaders in India, many of the famed pieces of jewellery and enamels found their way to different countries; some were taken as far away as to Tsarist Russia and England.

In 1739 AD, an Iranian ruler, adir Shah, sacked and looted Delhi. Much of what was taken by him became a part of the Crown Jewels of Iran. Other pieces-j ewels and gold vessels studded with precious stones, or enamelled-were gifted to Russia by adir Shah in 1741 and are now in the Hermitage. (The Golden Treasury.)

Since royalty had an all- consuming interest in jewellery and its related arts, they employed many jewellers and associated craftsmen in royal ateliers. There are also accounts of artists' delegations and other contacts between the Mughal court and the Portuguese enclave of Goa during the reign of Akbar, in the seventies of the sixteenth century.

Although the arts and crafts in India were always treasured, they reached their zenith during the rule of Emperor Shah Jahan who was not just a prolific builder but who also had a keen eye for gems and jewellery.

The Shah Nama (a record of the life and times of Emperor Shah Jahan) makes repeated reference to enamelled objects. These objects were highly prized, and were clearly intended for the privileged few. Particularly pleased by a display of valour by his son, Aurangzeb, imperial largesse to the young prince on his fifteenth birthday according to the Shah Nama included two Qibchaq horses, one with a jewelled saddle, and the other with an enamelled one. Swords and shields with enamelled appurtenances were also singular marks of honour.

The imperial annals also record the emperor's first ascension on an enamelled throne constructed in the course of nine months for the sum of five lakh rupees. One single instance confirms the excellence of and demand for the art of enamelling in Shah jahan's time. This is the royal librarian's record of a golden screen. This magnificent object with enamelled inscriptions and cupolas was specially crafted to place around the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah jahari's beloved queen, on her second death anniversary. (Dance of the Peacock: leuiellery Traditions of India.)

There is also one group of art historians which holds that the Mughal Emperor Hurnayun brought with him enamellers from Iran after his exile there in the sixteenth century. While this appears incorrect as Iran had no tradition of enamelling until the eighteenth century, nevertheless there are important substantiations in the accounts of seasoned and observant travellers like Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and Sir John Chardin. These observations seem authentic, as they were made by experienced travellers with a keen eye. Such 'experts' were not only intimately acquainted with the higher echelons of society, they were alsoknowledgeable professionals in the field of jewellery trade.

It is also quite probable that the art of enamelling was patronized at certain centres in the Deccan (in the south of India) even before the Mughals. From the sixteenth century onwards the art of enamelling spread from Mughal ateliers to other parts of the country.

'Technically, jewellery of the South differs greatly from that of the Mughal-influenced areas of India. The precious metal acts both as support and decoration, enamel is not usually found and gemstones tend to be used for their symbolic value rather than primarily for their decorative effect'. (A Golden Treasury.)


Types of Enamelling19
Techniques of Enamelling79
Theva Work95
Inlay Work111
Other Metalware129
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