Around 1786, Breguet began fitting his watches with engine-turned silver or gold dials of his own design (as seen above). Hand-crafted engine-turned motifs are one of the unmistakable hallmarks of a Breguet watch. The brand’s famous dials are immediately recognizable and celebrated for the fineness of their patterns. An engine-turned dial is indisputably a work of art.
Smooth to start with, the solid gold dial plate is first worked with a hand graver to outline and hollow out the areas of the dial reserved for such indications as the power reserve, the phases of the moon, the subdial for the seconds and others, depending on the model. Engine-turning as such can now begin, resulting in a finely textured surface. There are a number of decorative patterns, each with their own distinct aesethetic: clou de Paris hobnailing, pavé de Paris cobbling, sunburst, barleycorn, flinqué, cross weave, checkerboard, and flamé, to name several.
A case can be made these patterns make the dial easier to read, and I subscribe to this view in sense that good guilloché works does seem to distinguish various sections of the dial. More importantly for me, however, is that they also contribute greatly to the unique character of the timepiece.
Breguet craftsmen of today continue to use engine-turning lathes of yesteryear. Precision is down to the tenth of a millimeter, an impressive feat for lathes often designed and built over century ago. From start to finish, engine-turning depends essentially on the craftsman’s sharp eye and steady hand, of which the lathe is but an extension. Once the dial plate has been meticulously engine-turned by hand, it is silver coated using equally age-old techniques: powdered silver is delicately brushed on the plate with circular or linear movements, depending on the type of satin-like finish desired.
Suffice it to say that like the tourbillon, Breguet is the best-of-the-best when it comes to guilloché dials.