We’re 21st-century fine jewelry makers at Bario Neal, but we draw inspiration from ancient techniques to design and handcraft our enamel rings and filigree rings. By looking to that history, we honor rich artistry of past cultures that liked to tell stories with jewelry just as much as we do today. We bring our modern aesthetic and ethics of course. All of our enamel and filigree jewelry is made with ethically sourced gemstones and recycled precious metals or Fairmined gold. Still, there’s an undeniable spirit in the ornamentation of the past that fuels our imaginations.
“As someone who feels like adornment connects us to history and connects us to the Earth itself, these ancient techniques of enameling and our filigree designs bring you to the jewelry that's been made for 50,000 years,” Bario Neal Design + Production Director Tessa Kennedy says. “So you're looking at a ring that is slick and modern, and at the same time there are thousands and thousands and thousands of years behind that.”
Read on for more about these techniques, how Bario Neal handcrafts rings and bands using enameling, and our filigree-inspired designs. Plus, no time travel necessary: We have 10 rings that let you relish all that history while staying firmly in the present.
In the jewelry world, enameling is applying glass to a metal surface. Our enamelist puts glass in powder form in a channel of the ring, puts the ring into a kiln (a small version of what you might see in a ceramics studio), and fires. This is tricky: The heat has to be adjusted depending on the color of the enamel. The powdered glass gets slushy in the kiln. A layer then gets smoothed with a sanding tool; more glass is added and then back to firing again. Eventually there’s a perfectly smooth surface.
Due to expansion thanks to the kiln’s heat and the subsequent cooling off, not all metals work for the glass fusing process. Use the wrong metal and the enamel will probably quickly crack off. For Bario Neal’s enamel ring designs, we use yellow gold, green gold, white gold, or sterling silver. The most popular is 18kt yellow gold. (Peek at our Senna Square Ring with Black Enamel for a look at the understated combo of 18kt yellow gold and black enamel.)
Using gemstones in enamel rings adds another level of difficulty. “It’s complicated but actually very cool,” Tessa says. “We make the ring, we clean it up, and we have the stone set. Our enamelist has to put the piece into the kiln with the diamond or sapphire in it and do all the enameling work around that gemstone.”
Enameled rings aren’t common, but Bario Neal Principals + Lead Designers Anna Bario and Page Neal appreciate the history of one of the “oldest forms of surface decoration.” The ancient Egyptians enameled jewelry and pottery. Page’s wedding band even has white enamel -- though some people are wary about the glass breaking. “At some point, you will have to re-enamel your ring,” Tessa says. “But jewelry requires cleaning and maintenance, whether it's resizing it or having it rhodium plated again or other repairs. With an enamel ring, you’ll have jewelry that calls to this ancient technique.”
5 Enamel Rings by Bario Neal
1. Our Senna Diamond Halo Rings come with an ethically sourced blue sapphire or .40-carat white diamond set off by white, black, or red enamel. Savor the haute sauciness of our striking Senna Diamond Halo Ring with Tomato Red Enamel. Or go for a dramatic black-and-blue mix in the Senna Blue Sapphire Halo Ring with Black Enamel.
“I can't help but love our Senna Diamond Halo Ring with Black Enamel. During the design process, it was so exciting to see the diamond and enamel come together,” Tessa says. “It's very classy and reminiscent of Victorian mourning jewelry.”
2. Our Arc Diamond Halo Ring with Robin's Egg Blue Enamel shows off a different enameling technique. “With these, we start with white enamel, which is opaque, and then we lay a transparent enamel over the top of it,” Tessa says. “So you can see this transparent aqua color, and you can still see the white coming through.” To that magic, we add a burnished .02-carat Australian diamond.
3. “We're using very graphic, very primary colors in our enamel rings. Jewelry like our Senna Thin Band with Tomato Red Enamel feel so strong and very minimal,” Tessa says. “It's very special but not over-the-top ornamental.”
4. The bold Shield Band with Blue Enamel taps into yet another enameling technique called champlevé, which is French for “raised field.” “Field meaning the background,” Tessa says. “The technique is to layer the areas of enamel into the recesses of the surface. We make a computer design model that has all these teeny-tiny spaces, and once the ring is cast in metal, we infuse the enamel into all those spaces.” The Shield Band also comes with black, white, or red enamel.
Filigree jewelry dates as far back as 3000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia. Artisans would bend and twist gold and silver wire (and sometimes beads) together to create the woven patterns for earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. The word has roots in Latin’s filum, meaning “thread.” Over the centuries, cultures from India to medieval Europe to the Moors of Spain have used the technique in design and architecture to achieve the distinct lace look.
There’s plenty of jewelry history in ancient Mesopotamia, which today we know as Iraq and which also includes parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. According to All Mesopotamia, the idea of wedding jewelry got its start in the region, and craftspeople living there today still make filigree jewelry using the ancient technique.
At Bario Neal, we use computer-aided design (CAD) to print a wax mold that we then use for the metal casting to pay handcrafted homage to the twisted and soldered wires of true filigree.
"Our filigree designs are our modern interpretation," Tessa explains. "In the little spaces that would be created by the ancient technique of twisting gold and silver wire, our rings have geometric openings, triangular and trapezoidal. This is a nod to Bario Neal's love of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, and of course, all those ancient filigree rings. Our filigree rings express our appreciation for beautiful heirloom jewelry but acknowledge that we're contemporary designers with our own perspective."
5 Filigree Rings by Bario Neal
1 + 2. Our Filigree Diamond Oval Ring and Filigree Diamond Ring, with a half carat round diamond, strike the perfect traditional-meets-modern balance. Each ethically sourced diamond sits snugly in a bezel setting.
“People are drawn to antique rings, but they want modern designs,” Tessa says. “Filigree rings like our Filigree Diamond Ring and Filigree Diamond Oval Ring are the perfect happy medium. They reference old deco rings that still have so much charm, but with our interpretation, you still have that contemporary look. You're getting the best of both worlds.”
3 + 4. White sapphires are a great alternative if you want a colorless gemstone but don’t want a white diamond. The rose cut of the white sapphire in our Filigree Rose Cut White Sapphire Ring gives the stone a subtle sparkle and a hint of another era. If you want a touch of color, check out our Filigree Rose Cut Pink Sapphire Oval Ring.
5. “My favorite of the filigree pieces in Bario Neal’s collection is our Filigree Curved Band,” Tessa says. “I've never seen anything in the jewelry world today like it. It also fits with a lot of our other rings in the collection.” While the Filigree Curved Band makes a matching set with all of our filigree rings with diamonds and sapphires, clients also pair it with classic solitaire diamond rings from our collection.
The Bario Neal team works with clients in our Philadelphia and New York City showrooms and internationally by virtual appointments, to create new jewelry stories. We think making fine jewelry that’s meaningful to us and to our clients is key to making lasting pieces. Mixing ancient techniques and historic references with modern design is one way we make that happen. Contact us today to talk about our rings and bands with colorful enamel or the filigree style.