The tradition of miniature enamels goes back over two full centuries in Rostov (the Great), a small town not too distant from the great Volga River. The earliest mention of enamel craftsmanship in Rostov is 1760. It is clear that even then, the art had been in practice for some time. Enamel in Russia is first mentioned in the reign of Duke Andrei of Suzdal, where it is chronicled in 1174 that the Church of the Nativity was decorated with "gold, enamel, and all type of virtue." This superb artistry, passed from generation to generation, exemplifies the Russian artistic style. Rostov enamels have had various stages of flowering and decline, but the main theme of this craft - a tribute to the beauty of Russia's native land and to man's eternal spirit - was never lost.
Enamel is one of the oldest forms of decorating metal. It is a vitreous substance, meaning that it resembles and takes on the characteristics of shiny, glossy glass - such as the "vitreous" appearance of the human eye. Rostov enamels shine stunningly with subtle hues in jewelry pieces produced by today's craftsmen. These miniature enamels are often framed with intricately twisted "filigree" of sterling silver on copper, which compliment the exquisite enameled miniatures. Unlike tempera and oil paints, enamel never loses it color! They always remain as bright as the moment the plaque appears from the furnace after being "fired."
The art of enameling is known to exist in the Kievan Rus back in the 11th Century when it was referred to as "o Finift", Old Greek for "alloy", or "shining stone". Rostov is known to have had an icon painting workshop since olden days, hence when icon painting began to wane, the artisans transferred their expertise to enameling. In the late 18th Century floraflora designs came into use, expressing feminine elegance. These hand-painted enamels were often painted with a single hair brush, and this technique is continued today! Though a history of enameling in Russia can be found in various regions, Rostov stands as the pinnacle. Earlier, Rostov enamel craftsmen were commissioned to inlay icons, chalices, Bibles and even monarch's crowns. Today, the technique is used chiefly in jewelry making.