Minakari or Enamelling is the art of painting, colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over brilliant colours that are decorated in an intricate design.
The period of the Mogul era had a great impact on jewelry designs & art of jewelry making in India. The Mogul emperor Shah Jahan invited the Persian artisans who made world famous enameled silver articles to train their master-craftsmen in the art of enameling. For the first time in the history, this famous Persian enameling art was employed into making jewelry artifacts and it marked the beginning of a glorious era of enameled 18kt to 22kt Mogul jewelry pieces. The artisans of the Mogul era combined the sophisticated designs & techniques of the Persian art with Indian motifs & colors to produce some of the finest examples of enameling anywhere in the world. These jewelry pieces had brilliant colored enamel on one side and magnificent hand-cut rose diamonds, rubies, emeralds & sapphires on the other side. Sometimes the exquisite enamel on the reverse rivaled even the beauty of precious diamonds & gems in the front.
Gold has been used traditionally for minakari jewellery as it holds the enamel better, lasts longer and its lustre brings out the colours of the enamels.Silver, a later introduction, is used for artefacts like boxes, bowls, spoons, and art pieces while Copper is used for handicraft items.Choice of colors, in case of silver, has to be green, yellow or blue, as these are the colors which stick with it. As for gold, all the colors can be applied to it and this is also the reason why the metal is preferred for Meenakari jewellery.
The technique of Meenakari requires a high degree of skill and application. The piece of metal on which meenakari is to be done is fixed on a lac stick. Delicate designs of flowers, birds, fish,elephant, lion or peacock head terminals, etc are etched or engraved on it. This leads to the creation of walls or grooves, to hold color. Enamel dust of required color is then poured into the grooves and each color is fired individually. The heat of the furnace melts the color and the coloured liquid gets spread equally into the groove. This process is repeated with each colour.
As each color is individually fired, colors, which are most heat resistant, are applied first, as they are re-fired with each additional color. As a rule, white is the first color applied, and red the last.
After the last color has been fired, the object is cooled and burnished or polished with agate. The depth of the grooves filled with different colors determines the play of light.
The meenakar often works with a team of craftsmen. As meenakari is generally done on the reverse side of kundan jewellery, the meenakar has to work with the goldsmith, the engraver or ghaaria, the designer or chitteria and jadiya who applies the gems on the kundan or gold. The finished produced is a marvel of the expertise of these different craftsmen and their techniques.
Gulabi mina (pink enamel) is derived from gulab (rose) which has been popularly associated with the Varanasi enameling style. Pictures below show a very rare 22kt gold pink enamel elephant Moghul bangle. The two elephants face each other holding the "cup of nectar", the large diamond symbolising the nectar, the "drink of the Gods", believed to sustain life forever. As you can see, the bangle has very intricate carvings on the inside and the outer side which is studded with diamonds.
It is people in North India that sort after Minakari the most.Nathdwara, Bikaner,Jaipur and Udaipur are the famous centres for silver Meenakari. Pratapgarh is known for glass enamelling. Delhi,Lucknow and Varanasi are also important centers for exclusive Meenakari designs.