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Throwback Sundays: Six Recommendations for an Enamel Dial Timepiece from Our Archives

by Robin Lim on July 12, 2015
Reviews

When it comes to watches, the first thing that usually catches our attention will be the aesthetics of a timepiece. The aesthetics can either make or break a timepiece. And nothing is more appealing to the eye than an enamel dial on a watch. Call us traditional, though we prefer to be classical, but we love enamel dials.

The enamel dial is so fragile, that in its fragility lies its strength. It is born of the fire. Fortified, immortalized in the beautiful sheen and beauty. But yet if not taken care of properly, it can crack easily, destroying the beauty. Beauty, but never perfect. Take a microscope, and one discovers that it is indeed man made, with flaws, but look at it with the naked eye, it just seems perfect. As time takes its toll, a nicely aged enamel dial will take on a patina and often a characteristic crazing which is an identity unique to the piece. Real beauty.

 

Enamel Dials

These dials are exclusive and highly sought-after, because they are extremely gorgeous and very challenging to manufacture.

Enamel is a combination of silica (i.e. glass) and a colorant (a dye, pigment, or other substance that colors something, in which usually a metal oxide is used) melted together at a temperature of between 800 to 1200 degree Celsius. The mixture is then cooled and left to bond with a metal surface. Colors are applied in layers, beginning from light tones and gradually progressing to heavier hues. The process of layering, heating, and cooling continues over a few rounds until the desired result is achieved. However, it must be done with extreme care as in each layer gets fired, there is a high probability of cracking or air bubbles forming, rendering earlier work void and having the start again with a new piece. The manufacture process is traditional and time consuming, and very low yield.

There process of making an enamel dial is by firing it in an oven. The French term being grand feu , translated meaning great fire. Most enamel dials are made just with firing of white enamel, and the addition of layers of print over the hour markers, etc. If there are subdials, these are made seperately and then the main dial is cut and the enamel sub-dials inserted. However, enamel dials can also be decorative, and can offer miniature paintings which are paint applied and fired over the main dial. and also via two additional, and traditional enameling techniques: Cloisonné, and Champlevé.

 

Jaeger LeCoultre Duomètre a Quantième Lunaire

 

We begin our discussion with the JLC equipped with a grand feu dial:

 

The Jaeger LeCoultre Duomètre a Quantième Lunaire. It is truly a wonderful watch to behold.

The Jaeger LeCoultre Duomètre a Quantième Lunaire. It is truly a wonderful watch to behold.

 

We are big fans of the Jaeger LeCoultre’s Grand Feu dials.

The Duomètre a Quantième Lunaire is powered by Jaeger LeCoultre’s Caliber 381, a movement that features the iconic “dual wing” concept. This “dual wing” concept is a system in which one escape wheel is the regulating organ for two different and independent trains: one for timekeeping and the other for a secondary complication. The movement is very highly technical and well executed.

Aside from the movement, of course, the highlight of our exploration is the stunning Grand Feu enamel dial. Magnificent. In this case, the subdials are not sunken and the dial is one piece, but separate firings are required for the base white, and the black time markers and red accents. The dial is cut to provide an aperture for the moonphase.

This the watch with an almost perfect mix of technicalities and aesthetics. But JLC also offers grand feu watches which are simpler, and by nature more elegant. We reviewed the Jaeger LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Grand Feu which fits that bill. Either ways, both of them are wonderful choices, and we think that they are worthy enough to be featured in one’s watch collection.

 

Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon

 

The UN Anchor Tourbillon, now presented in a gold case, with a grand feu enamel dial.

The UN Anchor Tourbillon, now presented in a gold case, with a grand feu enamel dial.

 

Next up, we have Ulysse Nardin’s Anchor Tourbillon. Just like the Duomètre a Quantième Lunaire that we have featured above, this is yet another lovely watch that is amazing both inside out.

The Anchor Tourbillon is one of Ulysse Nardin’s latest creations, and it features a new escapement concept that they have been working on for the past 8 years. The escapement is a new design for a constant force delivery system, though it has some similarities with the Girard Perregaux Constant Force Escapement.  This allows greater accuracy, and it provides more consistency as well. We covered the details in this article.

Besides the new advancements in mechanisms, another feature of the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon would be its beautiful enamel dial. This exquisite grand feu dial is manufactured by Donzé Cardans, a company that is owned by Ulysse Nardin. The grand feu dial brings out the classic charm that this watch possesses, made more charming when it is paired with the warm rose gold case.

We highly recommend the Ulysse Nardin Anchor Tourbillon for collectors who wants to own a timepiece that is handsome, and yet revolutionary at the same time. It is one of the more elegant pieces in Ulysse Nardin’s collection, and we definitely think that this is a piece that will appeal to many collectors.

 

Patek Philippe World Time Geneva Harbor

 

The Patek Philippe World Time Geneva Harbor.  One of the pieces from the 175th Anniversary Collection.

The Patek Philippe World Time Geneva Harbor. One of the pieces from the 175th Anniversary Collection.

 

The Patek Philippe World Time 5131/175 in our recommendation is perhaps one of the most sought after World Timers in the horological world, and it is not hard to see why. Based on the very collectable Ref. 5131 first issued 2008, these watches were based on the world time mechanism patented by Louis Cottier in the 40s and 50s. Patek had utilized the Cottier mechanism in watches in world timer watches of that era. And encapsulates what a world timer watch should be: simple, refined, legible and easy to use.

Aside from the world time complication, the beautiful Cloisonné enamel dial that is found at the center of the watch. To create the picture of the Geneva Harbor, the enameler must form the design using gold wires, in which they are subsequently adhered or soldered onto the dial. The empty cells are then filled with enamel, and then they undergo the repetitive process of layering, firing, and cooling a few more times. The result, as seen in the picture above, is simply fascinating. A work of art, or as they say in French Métiers d’Art.

 

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst

 

The Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskundst. A fitting tribute to the 20 years of the classic design of the Lange 1.

The Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskundst. A fitting tribute to the 20 years of the classic design of the Lange 1.

 

Next, the enchanting A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst. In the Lange catalog since its revival in 1994, there have only been two enamel dials in the series collection. The first is the Langematic Anniversary, and the second is to celebrate the anniversary of the Lange 1’s 20th Anniversary. Announced in 2014, the magnificent A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst pays this tribute.

The Handwerkskunst, in German means “Craftsmanship”, and is an order within the Lange heirarchy that denotes significantly more handwork and skilled craft.

The dial is made in house in Glashütte by master enameler Romy Zimmermann. The dial features a sunken subdial for the seconds hand, which is separately made and inserted into the main dial. And also two sets of apertures: one for the outsized date which is trimmed in gold, and one for the tourbillon, which, interestingly is not trimmed.

For more details on Lange 1 Tourbillon Handwerkskunst read our detailed review here.

 

Laurent Ferrier Gallet Tourbillon with Grand Feu Enamel dial

 

The Laurent Ferrier Gallet Tourbillon. A very simple and elegant looking dress watch.

The Laurent Ferrier Gallet Tourbillon. A very simple and elegant looking dress watch.

 

Our next recommendation is the Laurent Ferrier Gallet Tourbillon. The Gallet Tourbillon, as pictured above, is a dress watch that features, par excellence. The design is very classical and understated. And other than for the wordings on the dial which say “Tourbillon Double Spirale”, one is hard pressed to know that hidden within is a tourbillon with a double hairspring. We feel this is a bit at odds for a watch this discrete, and would recommend one takes up the option to request for it to be omitted when one purchases the watch.

The dial, is beautiful, and contributes much to the classic aesthetics. Two colour layers over the base white, and a sunken subdial.

We like the Gallet Tourbillon not only for its enamel dial, but for its finishing too. We have covered this timepiece in one of our watchscapes.

 

Blancpain Villeret 12 Jour Tourbillon

 

The Blancpain Villeret 12 Jour Tourbillon

The Blancpain Villeret 12 Jour Tourbillon.

 

Finally, we have the last piece in today’s Throwback Sundays: the Blancpain Villeret 12 Jours Tourbillon. The Villeret 12 Jour Tourbillon, as the name suggests, features a tourbillon complication and an impressive power reserve of approximately 12 days. It is quite a technical feat, considering the fact that it is achieved using a single barrel.

Besides the complications, the self-winding timepiece also features a beautiful grand feu enamel dial.

The finishing on this timepiece is also exceptional. As mentioned in our review, the Blancapin Villeret 12 Jour Tourbillon features unique and magnificent hand-engravings on the movement. The expertly crafted hand-guilloché plates brings out a sense of gracefulness and artistry.

The Blancpain Villeret 12 Jour Tourbillon is perfect for those who want a watch with a great power reserve. To top it off, the delicate grand feu dial and its delightful finishing makes the watch much more charming and desirable. This is certainly another wonderful dress watch, and it gives other high-end watchmakers a run for their money.

 

Bonus: Vacheron Constantin Royal Chronometer

 

The Royal Chronometer by Vacheron Constantin. The highlight of this piece is the immaculate enamel dial.

The Royal Chronometer by Vacheron Constantin. The highlight of this piece is the immaculate enamel dial.

While this is not a wristwatch per se, we thought that we should feature this Vacheron Constantin Royal Chronometer pocket watch because of its brilliant and immaculate enamel dial.

The Royal Chronometer is part of Vacheron Constantin’s Collectionneurs collection, in which they are vintage pieces that are restored to showroom condition by their own technicians and craftsmen. This piece, which we reviewed here, was made in 1909, and it was refurbished recently to the highest quality by the folks at Vacheron Constantin. This pocket watch is rather special, simply because it is rather difficult and rare to find such a big enamel dial of this vintage kept in such a magnificent condition.

For those who wish to own something that is historic, then Vacheron Constantin’s Collectionneurs is probably something which you might want to look towards.

 

Afterthoughts

 

Enamel watches are rare. This is not surprising. The manufacture process is difficult, both requiring time and patience and great skill. And luck. A lot of it. Even then, the yield is very low. Sometimes up to 90% of the pieces are rejected due to manufacturing defects. As such, it is understandable that such watches then become very rare, and hence very desirable.

Well, we have come to the end of this week’s Throwback Sundays. Do let us know what you think of our selections this week, and please share with us some of your favorite enamel dial timepieces that you have come across in the world of horology. Till then, see ya!

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