The History of Miniature Enamels

Enamel miniatures, once highly prized possessions in Georgian society, have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity with the success of the Charlotte di Vita Collections™. 

The earliest known enameled articles are 6 enameled gold rings dated from the 13th century BC, discovered in a Mycenean tomb at Kouklia, Cyprus.

The first enamel miniatures were made in France in the 17th century where goldsmiths and enamellers produced miniature works of art on tiny boxes.

European traders introduced these miniature enamels to China in the 17th century. Emperor Kang Shee was so interested that he summoned Jean Baptiste Gravereau, a French master craftsman working in Limoges, to his court. Gravereau agreed to travel to the Imperial Court in the Forbidden City in Beijing to oversee the production of European-style miniature enamels.

Miniature enamels were introduced to Britain later, in the 1740s. Enamel trinket boxes, known as bibelots, became highly fashionable and collectable luxuries in the high society of mid-18th century Georgian England.

Many French enamelers settled in south Staffordshire and Bilston, in particular, soon became a famous and well-respected enamelling centre, serving the King and the gentry alike, enriching the aesthetic nature of Georgian society.

By the 1840s, however, the economic difficulties suffered by England as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, and the escalation of the industrial revolution meant the industry virtually ceased to exist. Britain's famous enamelling industry survived just 100 years. Today, antique enamels are extremely rare and sought after by collectors.

In China, the art and craft of creating miniature enamels continued within the confines of the royal court in the Forbidden City until, with the arrival of communism in the 1950s, these traditional skills were almost lost.

In 1997 Charlotte di Vita travelled to China, inspired by her grandmother's collection of antique Bilston boxes and by miniature enamels she had seen in the Victoria & Albert museum in London, to seek a way to revive this lost art form.

She tracked down a master craftsman who had been chosen as a pupil by elderly court masters who hoped this refined tradition would be preserved and treasured by future generations. He in turn has passed his traditional skills on to a new generation of craftspeople. And by reviving these traditional skills, the project has created secure employment for some 400 craftspeople and assisted them to generate income and support some 1200 family members.

Where can I buy the Charlotte di Vita Collections™ teapots?

Bamboo miniature teapot inspired by Chinese teapots used in the Forbidden City in Beijing