There seems much confusion about what is damascene and what is toledoware.  It turns out that with regard to jewellery making at least,  they are one and the same thing.

It is my understanding that damascene is the art of inlaying minute pieces of precious metal (karat gold, silver and platinum) into treated base metal, usually steel or iron.

It seems that the Spanish City of Toledo was the first area of major production in Europe (in the fifteenth century) hence the European name of ‘Toledoware’.

This particular type of inlay also referred to as Damascene is so named after Damascus the capital city of Syria.  Damascus was known worldwide as a center of metalworking excellence in the Middle Ages but beautiful damascene items have been produced for centuries by the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians too.

Earlier pieces of damascene tend to be more intricate and with many more and smaller inlays.  Later, as the tourist market developed in Toledo, pieces became easier to mass produce with fewer and fewer intricate designs.

Here is a simplified guide as to how damascene or toledoware is produced:

1. First, the surface of the metal is scored often with slashes to show the surface pattern which will eventually be inlaid.  This leaves the pattern visible for inlay and indents for reception of the metal inlay.

2. Patterns are drawn on the scored surface in gold and silver lines.

3. The item is then punched or struck with a powerful hammer (or maceta) to fully inlay the precious metal.

4. The black background is created by oxidation of the unmasked surfaces of the steel or iron in a hot ‘bluing’ solution.

5. A light and delicate finishing process by hand, ensures that the piece is ready for mounting.

6. Lastly, the plate which has had the inlay treatment is set into its backing plate, thus forming the finished piece of jewellery.

It seems likely that much of the ‘Damascene’ or ‘Toledoware’ which is seen for sale on the internet could more correctly be described as having been made in the damascene or toledoware technique  –  but from what I have seen, even this is doubtful.

These confusing imposters often have the traditional black and gold look, but the gold is often painted on and more than likely the pieces inlaid are not gold or silver at all.

It has been said that much modern Damascene available today originates in the Far East and a huge amount of it is die cut, thus doing away totally with the ancient art of inlaying fine metals into base and satisfying the markets for this type of jewellery.

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