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Articles from ENAMELLED JEWELLERY (53 Articles), ENAMELLING SERVICES (18 Articles)

'Veiled Passion' made of enamel, druzy quartz, 22-carat and 24-carat gold, fine and sterling silver, freshwater pearls and ioilite faceted beads
'Veiled Passion' made of enamel, druzy quartz, 22-carat and 24-carat gold, fine and sterling silver, freshwater pearls and ioilite faceted beads
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Craft focus: the art of enamelling

Master enamellist turned jeweller Debbie Sheezel is enamoured by the process of fusing precious gems and metals to create bespoke jewellery. By Sonia Nair.
When 21-year-old painter Debbie Sheezel followed her aunt to a gold and silversmithing course, she did not know it would be the start of a lifelong love affair with enamelling. 

It all happened by accident. 

A few weeks into the course, Sheezel noticed a kiln sitting in the corner. After curiously enquiring what it was, she sat enamoured as her teacher used the kiln to spin white enamel into copper.

“The white enamel melted and fused to the copper and it came out glossy and shiny. That was it, I just fell in love with it,” Sheezel recalls.

Her enamelling career kick-started some years later, in the 1970s, when she landed her first commission work painting walls and creating panels for the Manhattan Hotel in Ringwood, near Melbourne. 

From that, Sheezel got many more commissions, and the rest is history. She has hosted 10 solo art shows around the country and taught at RMIT in a four-year stint back in 1998. 

A particular challenge in Sheezel’s 45-year career has been resisting the urge to stay in her comfort zone.

Having dabbled in almost every enamelling technique from Basse-taille and Champlevé to Plique-à-jour before finally finding her niche in cloisonné, Sheezel is constantly looking for ways to challenge herself – now, jewellery design comprises a key part of her work.

“Every piece is something unusual. The pieces I design are often very disparate; from tiny ladybird cufflinks to murals to sterling silver boxes,” Sheezel says.

“The whole exercise is very personal. Often, I have to tell a story through my pieces.”

A story Sheezel relishes recounting is how she worked on a two-dimensional 16-metre wide mural of the Daintree Forest at Brisbane International Airport in 1993, all of which she completed by hand. 

“It took two years and I worked on it every day for the first six months,” Sheezel says.

The natural beauty of Australia is a theme Sheezel keeps revisiting in her pieces. 

“Each piece of stone, every colour, gives you a different feeling. I want to capture everything – the rocks, the ravines, the water and elements that make Australia."

Debbie Sheezel at work
Debbie Sheezel at work

Sheezel loves using semi-precious and precious stones such as peridot, amethyst, citrine, rubies and tourmaline in her jewellery but the pearl remains her favourite gem. 

“I love pearls in enamel. I like the lustre of a pearl combined with the sheen and gloss of enamel.”

Like the mural she designed, all her jewellery is handmade and personally set with the occasional help of apprentices. 

Sheezel is looking to design cheaper lines to complement her most expensive collections. In the lead-up to Christmas, she hopes to complete a selection of rings and necklaces.

Before its demise, the Makers Mark used to be Sheezel’s main wholesaling outlet and she is disappointed that it has closed down.

“There was a niche market there. They catered to my market and did it so well.”

Since then, Sheezel has been looking for more wholesaling outlets. She currently distributes her bespoke jewellery pieces through three galleries in Melbourne and one in Western Australia.

Despite her own passion for enamel jewellery, she laments the lack of enamelling in the jewellery industry and intends to raise greater awareness about the art form through her designs.

When she is not busy travelling across the country doing solo shows and designing jewellery, Sheezel assumes the responsibilities that come with being the secretary at the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia. 

Only a month ago, Sheezel designed a piece based on the theme of a “key” for the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia’s 21st Anniversary Exhibition. She was the sole enamellist among the 30 jewellers there. 

Reconstructing the traditional notion of a key was a challenge for Sheezel.

“At first, I was at a loss because I wanted to make it unique. I decided on featuring piano keys in the design of a brooch. I used pearls for the grooves of the key, ebony for the shaft, and enamel for the handle.”

Sheezel’s desire to be different gave birth to a triangular lapel brooch that reinterpreted the meaning of a key. 

Although Sheezel concedes that anyone can do enamelling, she says enamelling has a “mind of its own and there are strict rules and parameters which you have to abide by”.
The former lecturer now imparts the secrets of the trade to a select few students within the confines of her home studio. 

The key brooch Sheezel made for the 21st Anniversary of the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia
The key brooch Sheezel made for the 21st Anniversary of the Gold and Silversmiths Guild of Australia

Unlike her predecessors, Sheezel has no qualms passing on her skills.

“Enamelling is a difficult craft to conquer and there are secrets which enamellists do not like to give away but I think it’s nice to pass on your lifelong work to someone,” she says.

Sheezel remembers how difficult it was learning about enamelling without the guiding hand of a mentor. 

As soon as she saw her teacher enamelling with the kiln, she went out and bought herself big sheets of copper and enamel.

Without a mentor and with enamelling books that were few and far between, Sheezel taught herself. 

Merging her passion for painting with her newfound affinity for enamels, she defied conventions by using enamel as a medium to paint with.

“I began enamelling by intricately sprinkling dry powder onto big panels. No one ever told me ‘You can’t do it,’ so I just did,” she says. 

“I wasted a lot of money initially because a lot of my stuff was rubbish!” Sheezel says with a laugh. 

After experimenting for six months, Sheezel bought herself a small kiln; a mini fortune at the time. 

“I put the kiln in my laundry. My workbench was my washing and drying machine and I even unknowingly placed it on an asbestos sheet,” Sheezel says with a laugh.

Fast-forward a few decades later and much has changed. Sheezel now knows the perils of asbestos and instead of working in her laundry, she has created a work studio in her Malvern home. Surrounded by glass jars replete with colourful paint and alcoves full of powdered glass, Sheezel did not foresee her hobby turning into a vocation.

Although Sheezel has been practising the craft for 45 years, her love affair shows no signs of abating. She intends to continue spreading the word about enamelling, kiln by kiln. 

Burgundy Diamonds

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