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.
Today we will look at the Maître Cabinotier Astronomica, a superlative timepiece from Vacheron Constantin. Like the elaborately engraved Traditionnelle “L’empreinte Du Dragon” that I showed you last week, this is also a one-of-a-kind creation. But first let me say that there’s more to the Astronomica (as I will refer to it here) than it being a 1/1 piece with an 15-complications. A fact that seems lost on other watch media out there is that this watch is “the very first representative of a new and highly exclusive range of models” crafted in the spirit of Vacheron’s Atelier Cabinotiers. This is important, because by evoking Atelier Cabinotiers, Vacheron Constantin tells those of us in the know (and now you, Perpetuelle readers), that the Astronomica is by definition a veeeeerrrrry special piece.
As I extensively wrote about a couple years ago, the Atelier Cabinotiers is essentially Vacheron’s “special order” department, where exceptional watches are conceived according to the wishes of a private client and nothing more. In other words, among the most ambitious and exclusive timepieces made by Vacheron, period. Bespoke watchmaking at its finest.
Well, you’ve been treated to many special watches this week, as almost every brand has unveiled at least one or two new pieces at Watches & Wonders show. But to be clear, there are special watches and then there are special watches. This one-of-a-kind piece from Vacheron Constantin certainly stands at or near the top of the list. The “L’empreiente du Dragon”, from the brands “Métiers d’Art” series, is entirely hand engraved with a gorgeous dragon scale pattern, a symbolic tie-in to the Asian market. Of course such an impressively engraved case would not be complete without a complicated watch to show off. Thus this piece has at its core the Vacheron Caliber 2253. One of the manufacture’s most prestigious calibers, the VC Cal. 2253 is a 457-component masterpiece with tourbillon + perpetual calendar, along with with equation of time, sunrise & sunset indications. The Cal 2253 also delivers a robust 14-day power reserve.
Vacheron specifically notes that the exquisite engraving was done one of the most experienced master engravers working today — a man who was even named “Meilleur Ouvrier de France”, or “One of the Best Craftsmen of France”, in 2011. See “Did You Know?” below for more on the Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Also below are several pics of the burin-master at work.
Vacheron Consantin’s Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time watch was first unveiled in 2011, cased in rose gold. It is now available in platinum, as part of Vacheron’s “Collection Excellence Platine“. Whatever the case metal, the Patrimony Traditionelle World Time is an incredible timepiece, among the best of the best when it comes to world time watches. For starters, it is a single-crown world timer — no pushers on this case (!) — and on top of this it displays every single timezone on the planet, including the half and quarter hour timezones. That’s 37 timezones in total, people! And now, as part of the “Collection Excellence Platine” (platine = platinum), the Patrimony Tradionelle World Time is taken to an all new level of superiority.
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