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ABCs of Cloisonné Wire

If you're ready to try your hand at cloisonné enameling, the first thing you'll need is some cloisonné wire. Cloisonné wire is a flat ribbon and is measured by height and thickness. You can buy it easily enough. Most companies that sell enamels also sell the wire. It's how I started out. But after a while I was left wondering how the enameling greats got such intricate detail into their work while my efforts always looked crude and clunky by comparison.

It turns out the answer, at least in part, is you can't get refined detail using stock cloisonné wire.

Stock cloisonné wire is .040" x .010" (1.02mm x .25mm or 18ga x 30ga) The first number is height of the wire. It tells you how far your wire is going to stand up when you place it in your piece (and how much you'll be grinding off later if it's too tall). The second number is how thick the wire is, and this is really the key. .010 (.25mm or 30ga) may sound paper thin to you, but when you start trying to bend it into graceful shapes, it's going to fight you.

Rio Grande offers a second size that is .060 x .005. .005 is much better than .010, but .060, while fine for traditional enameling, is too tall for the work I do with photo-polymer plates. I'd end up grinding off significant amounts of material unnecessarily.

The solution is to buy custom drawn cloisonné wire. This is MUCH easier to do than it sounds. I get mine from Hauser & Miller. They have no minimum order (although there is a $5 handling fee on orders under $50) and they are very nice to work with. Their customer service is terrific.

Personally, I use .045 x .004. It's a hair taller than the standard wire, but much thinner. It's a good height for the pieces I make using .059 PhotoPolymer plates, and the thinness allows me to create the tiniest of details.

1 oz of .999 Silver cloisonné wire drawn to .045 x .004 is approximately 84 FEET long. That's a LOT of wire! And as of this writing costs only about $30.

1 oz of 24K gold cloisonné wire drawn to the same dimensions is about 45.5 feet long and would cost $1400.

Fortunately, Hauser & Miller does not require you to buy a full ounce. At today's price, 36" of 24K wire would be $103 and they will happily sell you that amount. For me a typical piece uses anywhere from 8" to 16" of cloisonné wire, so you could get several pieces from just three feet of wire.

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