On Throwback Sunday, we pick six of our favourite watches with grand feu enamel dials.
But first, “Blessed Easter” greetings from us on this Easter Sunday.
Six of the best: our favourite watches with the grand feu enamel dials
Enamel dials. They are often illusive. And for a time, perhaps about 30 years ago, the art of making these delicate grand feu enamel dials were thought to have been lost. But luckily for all of us, it was not. And steadily, we are seeing more and more watches with these dials. The art is complicated, and requires a skilled and practice hand to execute well. We explored the art in our visit report when we were at Donzé Cadrans where we documented how the dials are made. We highly recommend you read this first.
We also made an enamel dial list, first published in 2015, so this is an updated list of sorts.Perhaps for this list, we limit ourselves only to grand feu enamel dials with no additional artistic work. So without further ado, let’s start. As usual, in no particular order.
The Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon is a value proposition right from the get go. A retail price tag of CHF 28,000 is ticketed on this magnificent watch. Here you are offered a house manufactured tourbillon in an 43mm stainless steel case with a grand feu enamel dial. As Donzé Cadrans who are one of the top maisons producing grand feu enamel dials are part of the UN group, the dial is naturally sourced from them. The dial is a 3 piece affair, with the main dial in white enamel with black and red enamel print, a sub-dial for the power reserve indicator, also in white enamel and black with red enamel print. Even the sloped rehaut is in a white enamel with black enamel print. A huge cut out at 6 o’clock showcases the tourbillon.
The movement is a new in-house calibre UN-128 which features the brand’s silicium spring and escapement. The 36-jewelled, self-winding movement has a commendable power reserve of 60 hours at a modern 4 Hz beat rate and is COSC-certified for precision and accuracy. Of note, the cage, wheels, screws and hairspring of the flying tourbillon are produced entirely by Ulysse Nardin. A blue enamel with a guilloché version is also available for the same price.
The Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskundst took us by surprise when we attended the launch in Dresden in 2014, as we did not expect an grand feu enamel dial from the German manufacture. The only other enamel dial watch they made was the Langematic Anniversary piece, released in 1999 with a dial made by Donzé Cardans. But the 2014 release had an in-house enamel dial. This was perhaps the star element in this watch, as the tourbillon in a Lange 1 was not new, but the use of a black enamel dial hand made in-house in Glashütte is. The dial is the work of one Romy Zimmermann, who began her career in Lange as an engraving student and went on to France to develop her art and craftwork. She had returned to Glashütte as an experienced enamelist. Black enamel is perhaps the most difficult to achieve, as it shows impurities easily. Each of the dials on the 20 piece limited edition is hand made by Romy. The watch was priced at EUR 179,000 inclusive of German VAT at release, and are all sold out now.
The black enamel has a deep dark lustre that only enamel can provide. And contrasts beautifully with the white gold hands, markers and the mirror polished steel tourbillon cock. The watch remains at 38.5mm case diameter and 10.5mm case height. And within, it carries the caliber L961.3, the third iteration of the Lange 1 tourbillon. In its first iteration, it carried a tourbillon which rotates in a counter clockwise fashion, with a cutout on the dial to show the tourbillon. On the second iteration, it was encased in a honey coloured gold case, and the tourbillon was updated with the patented stop seconds mechanism. And in this third version, the movement is slightly modified to increase the pinion heights to accomodate the thicker enamel dial.
Recently released, is the Louis Erard’s second grand feu enamel dialed watch. This one is known as the Excellence Email Grand Feu II. The first Excellence Email Grand Feu was released in 2021, and sported a 42mm case, while this latest 2022 release has a case sized at a smaller 39mm. The dial is a beautiful white enamel with markers in blue enamel and a striking red enamel Roman numeral 12 at the top of the hour. The blue enamel markings complement the blued steel fir hands beautifully.
The CHF 3,900 asking price is very reasonable, keeping at an even keel with the first version in the larger 42mm case. Many other brands would have charged at least this amount, or even more, as the premium just for the privilege of having a grand feu enamel dial. But for this price, Louis Erard gives you a whole watch with an automatic winding movement, and in a limited edition of only 99 pieces. True, the movement is a basic Sellita SW261, but this is a workhorse of a movement, promising years of good timekeeping, with little to worry about in terms of reliability, serviceability or even accuracy.
This is as classic as it gets. From the house of Breguet. In their Classique 38mm diameter case in white gold with the trademark coin edge sides and straight lugs. And the magnificent blue enamel dial. Though there are no fewer than 15 variants of the Classique 5177 in the current Breguet catalogue, this iteration is perhaps the most gorgeous yet.
Rising from the beautiful dark blue dial, the markers used on the dial are made of powdered silver for the hour numerals (in Breguet Arabic numerals, of course) and the maison logo. The surfaces of these silver printed elements appear grainy over the smooth glass like finish of the enamel. The Breguet secret signature is etched on the enamel near 6 o’clock and visible under oblique light. We particularly like the attention to detail, for example, the date window is a trapezoid such that the leading numeral in a two digit date is smaller and proportionally expands to the second digit. The hands are in white gold, and very elegant, Breguet styled hands.
The movement is the 226-part, 26-jewel Calibre 777Q, an in-house creation by the maison. This is essentially a very classical Breguet movement, seen in earlier iterations under the Lemania house brand, but now upgraded with silicon parts for the balance spring and the escapement. Finishing is of course, superbly well done.
Retail price is an eminently reasonable CHF 23,100 for the white gold case with blue enamel dial. The same watch is offered with a white enamel dial for the same price.
The Blancpain is next. And what impressed us first is the triple complication offered by the Tourbillon Volant Heuere Sautante Minute Rétrograde. The watch features a classical Blancpain tourbillon at 12 o’clock, a heritage of the work of Vincent Calabrese who designed the tourbillon. And a sub-dial at 6 o’clock featuring an aperture for a jumping digital hour display, and a retrograde minute hand covering an arc of about 3/4 of the sub-dial. But that is not all the complications on this overacheiver. On the back, a sunburst hand guillochéd wheel that indicates the power reserve.
Powering the Villeret Tourbillon Volant Heuere Sautante Minute Rétrograde is the 263-part, 39-jewel Calibre 260 MR. The movement, like all others by the brand, is made in-house. The watch is manually wound, and like its name, its power reserve is long, providing 144 hours of autonomy. Movement finishing is perhaps best described as delicious. Instead of the usual Côtes de Genève, the bridges on the Calibre 260 MR are adorned with an intricate, wave-like, hand-guilloché pattern. Outlining these bridges are raised edges with straight grained surfaces and polished bevels. Plenty of outward as well as inward angles can be found on these edges, which is absolutely praiseworthy given that they cannot be made by machine (especially the latter) and that they require utmost skill to form by hand.
The price tag is not an unreasonable SGD 207,000 / CHF 139,000 for the rose gold variant given the triple complication.
Also a 2021 release, Chopard’s L.U.C Quattro is another magnificent example of the capabilities of the house. Not only the aesthetics are all beautifully accomplished, but the technical bits of horology also are equally spectacular. The dial is pristine white grand feu enamel, with black printed enamel markings. A framed aperture at 6 o’clock displays the digital jumping hour, and the long sweeping minute hand in an art deco style glides around the dial, marked with a railway track and Arabic numerals for the 5 minute intervals. The case is offered in a very classical 40mm diameter in a Fairmined 18k rose gold.
The movement is a new Quattro variant, modified to accomodate the power hungry jumping hour complication. This movement is the 240-part, 42-jewel Calibre L.U.C 98.06-L. Four stacked barrels provide the unusually long power reserve of 190 hours for a jumping hour watch, though the above mentioned Blancpain comes close at 144 hours. And needless to say, as this is a Chopard L.U.C, the movement finishing is top grade.
The L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25 is made in a limited edition of 100 pieces and is priced at SGD 61,700.
Honorable mention: Anita Porchet
Because we elected to use a no-artwork criteria approach, we were forced to exclude the many superb grand feu enamel dials with magnificent artwork. For example, the magnificent works by Anita Porchet for Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe and Jaquet Droz. If we may just draw just one example of her superior work, we present the Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art – Chagall & L’Opera de Paris. A true work of art of magnificent proportions. Watch this space, as we are already aware of at least one more Metiers d’Art work from VC which will feature her seminal work, and will inform all of you once the embargo is lifted.
Also perhaps fitting a mention is the Glashütte Original Senator Meissen with porcelain dials. These are also artisanal works done by the collaboration of GO and the Meissen porcelain manufacture. The dial is a paper-thin white Meissen porcelain with the blue Meissen crossed swords logo above the number at the 6 o’clock position, it’s hand painted with black radial Roman numeral hour markers, and there are blued steel spade hands. And though not grand feu enamel, we can draw some similarities. The base material is not a soft glass comprising of silica, red lead and soda, but clay mined from Meissen’s own reserves.
As mentioned, we last compiled this list way back in 2015, and we wrote this new article without first re-reading our earlier published piece. And only reviewed it when we completed our current selection. Interestingly, the Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskundst appears n both lists. There was a Ulysse Nardin tourbillon in the list, though a different one. But we are ready to stand by this list. The prices in the list range from CHF 3.5k for the Louis Erard (excellent, excellent value) all the way up to the (sold out) EUR 179k for the Lange. What are you favourite enamel dial watches?