All watches start as a clean disc of raw metal, and how much the watch costs at the end of its journey has just as much to do with the dial’s decorative techniques as much as the mechanics that lie beneath. Of all the artisanal ways a watchmaker can spruce up a watch with, enamelling remains one of the most challenging and costly techniques, making these enamelled watches all the more precious as works of art.
While they merely look like miniature paintings, enamelled dials are in fact extremely volatile to flaws. The basic process requires the fusing of soft glass (such as silica) onto a metal substrate in a furnace.
More specific techniques such as grand feu enamelling sees that process being repeated several times to achieve a certain level of saturation and vibrancy, while cloisonné means the enamel is painted within the fine parameters of metal inlays on a dial. Champlevé is the direct opposite of cloissoné, as enamel is painted within the recess of an engraved metal disc.
Even though the last two are techniques that typically require days to execute, grand feu enamelling remains a more celebrated expression of haute horlogerie because of the painstaking efforts taken to protect its fragility. Factors such as weather fluctuations or the wrong temperature of the oven can cause the dial to blemish; up to three quarters are discarded during the manufacturing process.
Yet it’s radiant sheen and flawless texture is why watchmakers still invest time and effort into enamelling. Here are some of the finest enamelled watches today.