You see the terms referred to regularly here at Perpétuelle: “grand feu”, “champlevé”, and “cloisonné”. And what are they? Enamel techniques, of course! Very often used to create some of the most beautiful watch dials the world has ever seen. But what exactly do these terms mean? How are these enamel techniques different? What distinguishes each of these enamel types from the others? And what about those other rare occasions where we see the art of “flinque”, & “grisaille” — enamel techniques as well — on display. I explore these questions and more in this overview of the art of enamel in watchmaking.
In many articles related to fine watchmaking, it is easy to brush past big, fancy (and typically French) words used to describe watchmaking techniques — enamel-related or otherwise. But given that enamel dials are often the most unique and beautiful of all dials in fine watchmaking, with basically all of the most prestigious haute horlogerie brand producing such pieces (some more frequently than others), the time has never been better to deepen our understanding of what these terms mean.
Because of the organic nature of the material and manner in which it is produced — almost always by the skilled hand of an experienced artisan — I believe that it can be fairly stated that every watch with an enamel dial is a unique piece as well. But for most, the difference between a cloissoné dial (such as that found on a Patek 5131G) and a champlevé dial (as seen on a Vacheron Metiers d’Art) is but another trivial watchmaking detail. This naivete, I confess, was somewhat the case for me as well — at least for a while. But then I became more and more intrigued by the art of enamel and decided to expand my knowledge base, which I share with you now.
This is an article I’ve had in my head for quite some time now, and an admittedly one that only the nerdiest of watch-nerds might appreciate. But I’m glad to have finally finished it and I enjoyed writing it. So follow along as I take you through the finer points of enamel and enameling techniques used in fine watchmaking. And please note — this is not an exhaustive study of the very broad ranging “art of enamel”, but as I say will review the most commonly used techniques fine watchmaking, and a few less commonly used techniques as well.
The Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe re-established its supreme status as the most valuable timepiece in history, selling at auction for CHF 23.2 million ($24 million / €19.3 million / £15.1 million) in the Sotheby’s “Important Watches” sales in Geneva earlier today. This surpasses the previous record sale for a timepiece of $11 million, which was established in 1999 by…this very same watch. Five bidders competed for this masterpiece of horology which went to an anonymous buyer in the room after 15 minutes of suspense. Completed by Patek Philippe in 1932, the Henry Graves Supercomplication is the most complicated watch ever made by human hands – and now quite likely the most famous watch in the world. The watch originally sold for the tidy sum of $15,000 on January 19, 1933 to Mr. Henry Graves.
Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe
Discover the Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe, the most important watch in the world. First commissioned in 1925, the Supercomplication has an astounding 24 complications
The Story of the Henry Graves Jr Supercomplication
THE 24 COMPLICATIONS
Weighing approximately 535g (1 lb. 3 ounces), the watch consists of 920 individual components including 430 screws, 110 wheels, 120 mechanical levers or parts and 70 jewels.
Henry Graves Jr.
Mr. Graves began acquiring Patek Philippe timepieces in the 1910s, ultimately becoming one of the firm’s most notable patrons. Mr. Graves would either commission watches from the firm or would ask Patek Philippe to personalize timepieces he acquired with his family’s coat-of-arms.
I do recommend the Official Lots Notes by Sotheby’s for more information.
This past Friday, October 31st, 2014, at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, GPHG (Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix), Breguet won the most prestigious prize of “Aiguille d’Or” (“Golden Hand”) for its Classique Chronométrie. The GPHG is an annual awards ceremony held in Geneva, essentially a watch industry event for watch industry folks, though its popularity has broadened somewhat in recent years. In any case, it is one the watch industry’s prime opportunities to earn bragging rights amongst peers, and this year it was Breguet who came away with top honors. As a Breguet fan, I was happy to see the Classique Chronométrie 7727, a 10hz high frequency watch with magnetic pivot (among other fine attributes) get the recognition it deserved. See for yourself:
Abraham-Louis Breguet sought constantly to improve the accuracy and reliability of his watches through numerous inventions, ranging from the perpétuelle selfwinding watch (yes, the name of this blog was inspired directly by A.L. Breguet’s work!) to the tourbillon.
Today’s The Classique Chronométrie 7727 is the culmination of several years of research into high frequency (it operates at 10Hz), magnetism (the magnetic pivot was patented by Manufacture Breguet in 2010), and new materials (silicon). At the same time, the watch honors more than two centuries of Breguet’s stylistic tradition with the fluted caseband, welded lugs, engine turned dial, “Breguet hands”, secret signature and unique number, all of which are the identifying features that express the essence of a Breguet timepiece.
A quick FYI to my Minneapolis-area locals — Wixon Jewelers is having its annual watch fair today and tomorrow. Wixon carries a nice lineup of high-end brands and they will have a few special pieces on hand that are worth seeing such as the Patek 5270G (perpetual calendar Chrono), the Parmigiani Ovale Tourbillon, the Parmigiani Kalpa Resonance, Jaeger LeCoultre Duomètre pieces (Chronograph & Unique Travel Time) and more. Stop by if you are in the area!