Sunday, 29 September 2013

How to repair vintage enamel jewellery

It's easy to find vintage enamel jewellery, but at best it's usually 'nibbled'. What's more, it's easy to chip a piece if you're not careful. Today I repaired a couple of brooches, so I thought I'd share how I did it in case it's useful to anyone else.

What I started with
Two enamel brooches, both probably 1960s, made by Solihull company Exquisite. The oak leaves are part of a whole sequence of leaf brooches produced in that era, and I also have the horse chestnut, which was a gift from my friends Andy and Rachel. I found this one in my local Scope charity shop. The oak leaves were in pretty good condition, though the enamel had come off the tip of one acorn and was chipped on the leaf behind it.

The lucky heather was another charity shop find. Exquisite produced different sorts of heather brooches by the truckload, I believe mainly for the Scottish souvenir trade. It was all battered and unloved, so I thought I'd buy it, and when I got it out of the charity shop I realised just how badly the poor thing had been treated: someone had given it a really inept repaint at some point in its history, blobbing excess white all over what should have been leaves, and it had lost its diamante.

You may have a brooch, necklace or earrings to repair, but if your jewellery has this sort of enamel on, you can fix it. (NB: I am assuming you are handy with a paint brush. If you can handle gel eyeliner or painting metal wargames figures, you'll be fine.)

What you need
Enamel paints
You can get these from your local model shop. Try to buy paints as close in colour to the item you're repairing, as this will save you having to mix a shade from several tins. Enamel paints are mostly used by people making model railways and military models, which means you'll have a far better choice of greys, greens and blues than bright pinks or purples. Also, make sure you buy as pot of white as some colours will require a base coat (more on that later). You might also need a pot of gloss coating if you can only find a matte version of your chosen colour.

Paint brush
Pick a smallish brush if you're doing fine work, a medium one if the area you're painting is one colour and requires a single swoop of colour.

Cocktail sticks
A ceramic ramekin or a shot glass
A table knife
Some waste paper. 
You've probably got all these at home. You might also want a pair of tweezers if you have false nails.

What you do
Lay out your waste paper on your work surface in a well-lit, well ventilated area. I've taken my paper away for the photos as the print would be distracting, but I did work on some. Pour a little bit of thinners into your ramekin or shot glass - it's a waste to dip your brush directly into the bottle as this will make the whole lot murky.

Have a close look at your jewellery. Some colours might be painted over the top of a white base coat – this is most likely to be the case when you've got several colours used all together, as in the leaves of my oak brooch, or when red and yellow are used as these pigments are often more transparent than greens and browns. Decide whether you need to start with white.
Halfway through, with a white base coat on the acorn and leaf

Pick up your chosen tin and give it a good shake. Lever the top off with the table knife and set it carefully aside. Papa Robot, who taught me all I know about this sort of thing, uses tweezers for moving lids, and if you've got false nails that might not respond well to the thinners or paint, that might be a good idea for you too. Now stir your paint with a cocktail stick. Sometimes they settle, and this will ensure even colour and drying.

Carefully dab your brush into the colour. I start by simply running the tip of my brush on the cocktail stick. It saves wastage, and you only need a tiny bit of paint on the brush anyway. Remember, it's easier to put on another thin layer than it is to remove a badly-done blobby layer. If you're doing a white base, apply it ONLY to the damaged area. If you're using a colour straight away, decide whether you also want to blend it in a little to the surrounding paint. Paint!

Now wipe your brush on a tissue to remove excess paint, dabble it in the thinners to remove the rest, then dry your brush on another bit of tissue. Wait five minutes or so for your paint to dry, then start on your next colour.

Here are my finished brooches. As you can see, after putting the green on the oak leaves, I added some streaks of brown to replicate the original pattern and hide the 'join' between my repair and the original enamel. I found a little diamante to finish off the lucky heather.

The finished repairs!


  1. Really love these, my dad used to do lots of things with enamel paints that were pretty crafty! Your brooches are divine!

    1. Dads do cool things.

      I luffs me a good brooch. They perk up any outfit.

  2. Fantastic piece, I'd never have thought to do this - even though I've got a big collection of enamel paints. Super brooches.

    1. I'm all about the details, and little imperfections annoy me - plus I worry that the damaged areas will get worse if not fixed.

  3. Now that is a good idea! Alas, the main type of enamel jewellery I covet is completely out of my price range.

    1. Have you been looking at the late Victorian-to-30s stuff with diamonds, by any chance? It is lovely. I'd be terrified of cracking it if I owned a piece!

  4. hi

    can i use this technique on reparing gold and enamel rings?

    1. Hi, I suspect not - the enamel I'm repairing in this walkthrough is 'cold' enamel, which is painted on. With gold, I expect you've got the high-end glass sort of enamel, which is fired in place, and that would be a specialist repair.

    2. Do jewelry stores repair the gold ring enamel paint? My engagement ring is an 18th century ring and the enamel is chipping off.

    3. Hi Jazmine, an antique ring would be a specialised repair, and I suspect with one that old the enamel will be glass enamel, not paint. So you'd need to find a specialist in that sort of restoration, as it's unusually skilled work.

  5. this looks really good and the guide is great. thank you for sharing

  6. Love it; DIY repairing treasures to former glory, fab! Thanks for posting ��