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This type is now thought to have originated in the Late Antique Eastern Roman Empire and to have initially reached the Migration peoples as diplomatic gifts of objects probably made in Constantinople, then copied by their own goldsmiths.
In the Byzantine world the technique was developed into the thin-wire style suitable only for enamel described below, which was imitated in Europe from about Carolingian period onwards.
No Chinese pieces clearly from the 14th century are known, the earliest datable pieces being from the reign of the Xuande Emperor (1425–35), which however show a full use of Chinese styles suggesting considerable experience in the technique.
Cloisonné enamel objects are worked on with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln.
By the 14th century this enamel technique had spread to China, where it was soon used for much larger vessels such as bowls and vases; the technique remains common in China to the present day, and cloisonné enamel objects using Chinese-derived styles were produced in the West from the 18th century.
Cloisonné first developed in the jewellery of the ancient Near East, typically in very small pieces such as rings, with thin wire forming the cloisons.
Sometime a wire is used just for decorative effect, stopping in the middle of a field of enamel, and sometimes the boundary between two enamel colors is not marked by a wire.
In the Byzantine plaque at right the first feature may be seen in the top wire on the saint's black sleeve, and the second in the white of his eyes and collar.