Although the technique of applying colourful enamels to metal was widely used in Japan from the late 16th century, Japanese enamelling became particularly refined between 1880 and 1910, when technological advancements enabled the manufacture of larger and more detailed pieces. Displayed at the great world exhibitions, cloisonné enamels were quickly appreciated in the West and became Japan’s most successful export. Cloisonné is a specific enamelling technique, whereby fine wires are soldered onto a metal surface to create a pattern and delineate the areas into which coloured enamel pastes are applied. The object is then fired at high temperature to melt and fuse the enamels to the surface. The wire frame not only contains the molten enamel colours, but also forms an integral part of the decoration once the surface is cooled and polished with several stones to a high-gloss finish.
This cloisonné enamel tea set is decorated with delicate prunus blossoms and intricate floral motifs on a blue ground. The presence of saucers and handles on the teacups confirms that the set was made specifically for export to the West, as Japanese teawares produced for domestic use were mostly earthen or stoneware and were less ornamental in appearance.