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Combining Historical Techniques With Contemporary Forms

“Liquor Set (3 Glasses)” Plique-a-Four by Valeri Timofeev

Artists often are inspired by nature, and many find motivation in the world around them. Paying tribute to the past and honoring one’s heritage are also important to many artisans, who sometimes spend years researching and mastering an ancient technique or art form.

Such is the case with Latvian-born jeweler Valeri Timofeev (b. 1941), who is considered the modern day master of a technique known as “plique à four,” a French phrase which means “light of day,” or “open to light.”

First popular with the public in the late 19th century, plique à jour is a technique in which translucent enamels are fused to span a network of gold, silver or copper wire, with no metal backing under the glazed areas.

The technique produces “windows” of clear enamel in this network of metal. When light shines through the enamel it produces an effect similar to that of a stained-glass window.

Timofeev, who now makes his home in East Stroudsburg, PA, was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1941. He moved to Moscow in 1967 to study jewelry arts and was drawn to enameling because of its color, transmission of light and compatibility with metal.  His work caught the attention of the Soviet Artists Union, which invited him to become a member.

Timofeev was inspired to learn the techniques of Russian masters, whose applied-art workshops of the early 20th-century were almost destroyed during the Bolshevik Revolution.  He found that many technical secrets had been lost after 1917, as traditional art was diminished and replaced with newer styles.

"Bowl" Gilded silver Plique-a-Four enamel by Valeri Timofeev

The artist spent many hours in Russian museums studying the enamel work of Carl Fabergé, Pavel Ovchinnikov and others, and researching their work in many old books, which he found in the basements of libraries and old bookstores. Once he felt secure in their technique, he developed his own contemporary style.

In November 1992, Timofeev was one of three artists invited to exhibit his plique à jour work in Moscow, at an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Fabergé firm.

The Russians asked him to serve as a consultant on jewelry for the Armory Chamber in the Kremlin, one of the country’s most important museums.  Today, you will find Timofeev’s work in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Museum and other museums around the world.  ~


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