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.
SOLD! 291,750 Swiss Francs (about $305,000 USD
on Nov 9, 2014
The top highlight of Antiquorum’s mega-sale this weekend in Geneva is unquestionably the Small Singing Bird Cage Clock with Automaton Jumping Bird & Automaton Waterfall, attributed to Jaquet-Droz et Leschot Geneva. At upwards of 400,000 Swiss Frances, it is projected to be the top selling lot of the auction, out of more than 1,000 lots which include such exceptional pieces as a Patek Philippe Ref 2499, a Blancpain 1735 Grand Complication and a Patek 5004.
But forget the price — this is one of those truly rare, special and exceptional pieces of horological history that happens to not be a pocket or wristwatch — and I absolutely love it. You have to see — and hear — this amazing piece of horological history. It really is an awe-inspring piece of automaton, particularly when you consider it was made circa 1785 (!!!!). And here it is:
The Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater was launched in 2012, featuring two birds and their young created in remarkable detail by the hands of Jaquet Droz artisans. The following year, The Charming Bird watch marked the brand’s 275th anniversary with a new interpretation of the bird in an ultra-modern decorative setting and this time singing. Now, the story continues with a new version of The Bird Repeater – a more streamlined, contemporary-looking model that has nonetheless retained intact the animated features that made it a success: a duo of birds feeding their fledglings, the spreading wings, the tumbling waterfall and the hatching egg.
Unveiled with three new dial colors earlier this year, Jaquet Droz describes the Grande Seconde SW Steel as a “subtle mix of cool elegance.” Looking at the watch, however, you’d be hard pressed to find that subtleness, as the dial pops with a gadget-y tech look that recalls a robot’s face and everything other than the understated praise that Jaquet Droz showers the design with.