Damascene, Toledo Damascene (Toledoware), and Niello (Nielloware)
What is Damascene?
Damascening is the art of inlaying different metals into one another, usually gold or silver into a darkly oxidized steel background to produce intricate patterns. Steel is chiseled down into designs, and then gold or silver are inlayed into these chiseled areas. The metal is blued, or oxidized to a very dark color. The Traditional damascene typically feature Renaissance designs with birds or Arabesque geometric designs.
Cities/Regions famous for damascene include Damascus, Syria; Toledo, Spain; Mycenae, Greece; Kyoto, Japan.
Common damascene makers marks, markings or companies producing damascene include Amita, Japan, Made in Japan, Toledo, IA, Midas, Spain.
What is Toledo Damascene or Toledoware?
Making damascene is a very involved process so there are companies that have created damascene-esque jewelry with raised designs and painted enamel. This cuts down on the time detailed craftsmanship, inlay work, and blueing of the steel to create the dark oxidized color would take.
Toledo Damascene or Toledoware was confusing for me at first. I initially thought that all damascene that was made in Spain was Toledoware, which I think is a common misconception. Damascene is the process of etching, inlaying gold/silver, and oxidizing the metal no matter if it is done in Japan, Spain, or anywhere.
Toledoware is a “faux damascene” that imitates the look of damascene with raised designs, painted enamel (black, red, white, etc) into the lower grooves in the design. Frequently Toledoware will have a beaded raised design with white enamelwork painted onto it, as seen in the photos of the Spanish galleon, cart and horse, and leaves.
More Examples of Toledoware and Faux Damascene
This necklace appears to be damascene at a glance, but further inspection shows that the black pieces are inlayed into the metal and the designs are raised.
Observe the gap between the inlayed piece and the metal.
This bracelet has a rose design etched into a black panel.
Black enamel butterfly
Painted black enamel on glued in piece.
What is Niello or Nielloware?
Niello or Nielloware is sometimes confused for damascene because of the dark background featured on many designs. According to Wikipedia, Niello is a black mixture, usually of sulphur, copper, silver, and lead, used as an inlay on engraved or etched metal, especially silver. Frequently marked Siam, Siam Sterling, or Thai Sterling these pieces of jewelry feature engraved designs in which the alloy is used to fill the negative space around the design.
YOU BE THE JUDGE!
This Reed and Barton lapel pin is marked “Reed Barton Damascene” on the back, but is it actually damascene or just the name of the Reed and Barton Damascene Collection?
Learn More about Damascene, Toledoware, and Nielloware Here: