A centuries-old craft that, today here at RGM involves the use of antique machines to engrave delicate patterns on metal watch components. The fruits of this craft, very nearly a lost art, can be found adorning all manner of watch parts including cases, dials and movements. Engine turning is the act of cutting geometric patterns in a rotating metal surface with a stationary cutting tool called a rose engine. A similar type of engraving can be done with a straight-line engine, which is used for such patterns cut either vertically or horizontally. Some companies stamp their dials, but true Engine-Turning is cut line by line, and each dial is unique and handmade. Examples of famous works of Guilloché are the beautiful decorations on the historic Faberge eggs that were made for the Russian Imperial family from 1885 to 1916. Link to RGM page on Guilloché click here.
GRAND FEU ENAMEL
The term Grand Feu translates as “Great Fire” Creating an enamel watch dial is a high-risk art. Enameling is a technique in which colored powdered glass is applied to a metal plate. The surface is then heated to a temperature high enough to cause the powdered glass to melt and form a new surface. The Grand Feu technique ups the stakes. It involves meticulously coating a watch dial with successive layers of enamel. Once a layer is ready, the dial is heated at extremely high temperatures, ranging from 1472-1652°F (800-900°C). The repeated baking of each individual layer ensures a uniquely crisp aesthetic while permanently setting the enamel. Using high heat to create these beautiful dials also poses a risk. Each time it is re-fired, the danger of cracking, melting, or burning increases. The numerals and track are also baked into the surface. With great risk comes great reward: the appearance of a real glass enamel dial is unmistakable.
Cloisonné (‘to partition’) is an enameling technique in which the outline of the design is formed by first adding compartments (“cloisons” in French) to the metal object by applying silver or gold flat wires placed on their edges. These remain visible in the finished piece, separating the different compartments of the enamel or inlays. Cloisonné is made with enamel powder made into a paste, which then needs to be fired in a kiln.
The flat gold or silver wire are often no thicker than a human hair, are hand bent and shaped to the design required. The cloisons give the image an appreciable level of detail, dimension, and beauty. The dial is created through a series of layering and firing. With a Cloisonné dial, the colored cells might be filled in and fired in the kiln five or more times before final finishing and polishing.
MINIATURE HAND PAINTING
Once the artwork is determined it is then adapted or recomposed to the shape of the dial, the miniature canvas for the painter. The dial could be a metal dial, or a Mother of Pearl dial which makes a beautiful background for the picture. An outline of the image is transferred to the dial, then the painter composes his palette, by preparing and mixing his paints to the desired colors. He then shapes his brushes which are made from the hair of a Marten to have the finest brushes possible for this miniature work.
Total concentration is needed for this painstaking labor of love, which is normally done under a microscope. Searching for the right shade is a constant challenge. Colors are progressively blended in to achieve the desired gradation and nuances. Many extremely fine layers are then applied to achieve the desired result the artist requires.
The dial has to pass through the kiln several times to dry each layer of paint, so that a new layer of color can be applied. Repeated drying also minimizes the wet paint's exposure to dust, which can ruin the work. This process is repeated many times depending on the complexity of the artwork. A transparent lacquer is now delicately applied over the whole dial surface. The dial is then dried in the kiln for 24 hours the lacquer is then polished to its full brilliance.
Marquetry is a decorative technique used traditionally on furniture, smaller wooden objects and pictorial panels. Marquetry has its origins in Ancient Greece, where wooden objects were inlaid with different materials. A recent arrival in the watchmaking world which requires this work to be done on a miniature scale. When creating a dial with this technique the marquetry-maker uses different woods in a wide variety of colors, the wood is cut, and assembled according to the chosen design. This is a very demanding craft and requires a very talented artist.
Very few watchmakers can offer this rare craft to their clients.