Description of work
Many of the silversmiths of Burma are proficient in this art, although few are fond of it, because producing niello entails working over a hot furnace and inhaling the sulphurous fumes. The design appears as if drawn in silver outline on a black ground. Antique Burmese silver objects and articles with niello decoration include cups, lime boxes, plates and knife handles, and are all quite smooth with a good polish.
The black enamel used is made of –
- 2 parts
The materials are melted in a fierce fire with sulphur added at discretion.
The silver object to be treated with niello is commonly about 1/3 inch thick, and the design is drawn and engraved as before. The lines of the drawing are left alone, but all other parts are punched in to the silver and the edges are cut sharp with a small chisel. The niello, prepared as above, is finely powdered. This powder is mixed with borax and placed in all the hollows. The work is then placed under an iron cage in a fierce charcoal fire, where the intense heat fuses the black enamel to the surface of the silver. The enamel or niello is then filed smooth, polished with sandpaper, then with charcoal-dust, and finally burnished like silver-work.
Silversmiths occasionally also do a little damascening, either of silver or gold, on blackened copper or silver and brass on iron. The copper is blackened by melting it with five per cent. of gold and a little sulphur.
Plain polished cups are sometimes made of a mixture of half gold, half brass, which is said never to tarnish and has a beautiful colour.