At the sight of some places in southern Beijing with “Jingtai” in their names such as Jingtai Park, Jingtai Bridge, Jingtai Road, Jingtai Primary School, and Jingtai Metro Station, people always think of a traditional handicraft product with Beijing characteristics: Jingtai Lan (Cloisonné). All these names came from the nearby Beijing Enamel Factory.
Cloisonné is technically called “fetal copper filigree enamel”. This product of court culture is over 600 years old and still shines brightly. Cloisonné is not porcelain, but a special metal craft product made of gold, silver, copper, and many natural minerals. Its body is made of purple copper. After the body is made, it needs to be carved and decorated with filigree. During the process, the craftsman bends the copper wire, which is about 1 mm wide, into different shapes with tweezers according to the drawing. A copper piece with the size of a fingernail may be bent dozens of times before it can be shaped. Next, the filigree and copper body are glued together by Chinese ground orchid and are soldered together in the kiln. The next process is enamel filling. The enamel pigments of cloisonné consist of fine particles ground from natural minerals. The semi-finished product after the first enamel filling will be fired in the kiln, followed by cooling. The processes of enamel filling and firing are repeated at least three times before the enamel glaze is level with the filigree. A piece of cloisonné also needs to be polished three times. Finally, a layer of gold plating is applied to the surface of the filigree before the completion of the product.
The artistic characteristics of cloisonné craftsmanship can be summarized in four words: shape, pattern, color and gloss. An exquisite cloisonné vessel has a well-made body shape, beautiful decorative filigree, gorgeous and rich enamel, as well as shiny and brilliant gold plating. Therefore, integrating painting, craft, carving, inlay, glass melting, metallurgy, and other professional techniques, cloisonné is a craftwork with distinctive Chinese style and profound cultural implication. Cloisonné production techniques are also rated as national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture.
Beijing is the cradle and the most important producer of Chinese cloisonné. Beijing cloisonné is elegant and impressive in shape, rich and complex in patterns, and clear and dignified in colors, impressing people as being round and solid, delicate and neat, glorious and splendid, and highly decorated. It is one of the world-famous traditional handicrafts with the most distinctive Beijing characteristics, and is known as a treasure of China produced in Beijing.
Beijing Enamel Factory is the largest producer of cloisonné products in China. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it has been the birthplace of gifts presented to foreign government leaders. The cloisonné lamp, known as “the first national gift of PRC”, was made by the Beijing Enamel Factory. Beijing enamel is well known in both domestic and international markets, and the famous “Jingfa” brand has been established. China’s important diplomatic reception venues such as Zhongnanhai, Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, and Special Flight Terminal of the Capital Airport are decorated with “Jingfa” cloisonné vessels. Many classic products have been presented to foreign dignitaries as national gifts. They are loved by cloisonné lovers and collectors at home and abroad, and praised by industry practitioners.
Beijing Enamel Factory is a base for preserving and inheriting national intangible cultural heritage, cloisonné production techniques, as well as a demonstration base for productive protection of national intangible cultural heritage. Based on its own strengths and the characteristics of the industry, Beijing Enamel Factory focuses on the features of cloisonné culture and actively explores the dissemination and development of the culture. It has built the first cloisonné art museum and an open production skills display area in China, providing professional explanations of the production processes, so that the art of cloisonné is increasingly integrated into people’s daily life.