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Cloisonne Decorative Collectibles

Cloisonne decorative items - vases, pins and jewelry, plates, teapots, and figurines such as dragons - are unique and beautiful works of craftsmanship. While cloisonne is most often associated with Asian pieces, the technique has been used by many cultures and peoples since antiquity. Cloisonne pieces are prized by collectors for their intricate patterns and designs in different vibrant colors.

What is the difference between Chinese and Japanese cloisonne?

Early and middle Japanese cloisonne and Ming dynasty examples share similar traits and can be confused when compared. By examining the following details, you can differentiate between the two:

  • Body construction: Early and middle Japanese pieces under 31 centimeters are made of copper or bronze. Chinese enamel work over metal bases used bronze during this time period and did not begin using sheet copper until the early 1500s.
  • Shapes: Chinese cloisonne enamel pieces were inspired by and modeled after ancient Chinese bronze work and include such examples as altar burner sets, which have two candlesticks, an incense burner, and two vases. Early to middle Japanese pieces featured predominantly unusual shapes with few Ming imitations.
  • Wires: Pieces made in China used bronze wires formed by hand that were uneven in diameter. Early to middle Japanese pieces used copper wires with a consistent diameter.
  • Designs: Early and middle Japanese pieces feature asymmetrical styles with the predominant flower being chrysanthemum. Chinese designs feature symmetrical styles with the dominant flower being the Buddhist lotus.
  • Glazes: Chinese glazes are opaque with a wide color range and feature openwork. Early and middle Japanese glazes feature a multitude of colors and hues with shading and shadowing effects as well as transparent and layered glazes. Openwork is rarely found in Japanese examples.
How do you care for and clean cloisonne vases?

Because cloisonne vases (known as cloisons from the French) are created with enameled surfaces within structured compartments over a metal base, care must be taken when cleaning them. This is especially critical if the item in question is of antique origin. To clean a cloisonne vase, follow these steps:

  • 1. First and foremost, never use any chemical cleaners on cloisonne nor soak cloisonne items in water as both could damage or dislodge the enamel.
  • 2. To remove dust, you can gently wipe the cloisonne vase with a lint-free or microfiber cloth.
  • 3. To buff the enamel, use a separate and clean lint-free cloth to gently rub the surface until it gleams.
What are some common Chinese cloisonne designs and pieces?

Chinese cloisonne is widely sought after for its detail and beauty. Many Chinese cloisonne pieces were used as everyday items during the Ming Dynasty period and earlier, marrying beauty and function. Some common collectible Chinese cloisonne pieces include:

  • Altar burning sets
  • Tea sets
  • Vases
  • Dragons
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