The Aesthetics of Superior Enamelwork

Enamel is a soft glass composed of silica, red lead and soda. Mixed together with other elements, enamel is capable of creating intense hues with a subtle, magical depth. Elements used to add hue to enamel include iron which produces a gray color, chromium which creates a green color and iodine which makes a fiery red color. When enamel is heated to temperatures of 800-1'200 degrees Celsius, it liquefies and bonds to metal. Enamel is applied to a watch dial using a goose quill. It must be slowly built up to create the appropriate depth so that its color attains the correct hue. The problem with enamel is that it is incredibly hard to control. Because repeated firings are necessary between each application of enamel, dials are exposed to a high degree of rist. At any stage they may crack, air or gas bubbles might emerge and leave tiny holes, or the resulting colors might simply not be optimal. However, the reward for enduring this high stress procedure and coping with the exepensive rejection rate it incurs are watch dials that are simply stunning to behold.

Furthermore, the intense hue of enamel never fades. Centuries-old museum pieces graced with enamel dials still shine as brilliantly in this millennium as the day they were presented to their original, delighted owners.

Production

A lost decorative art that is mastered by less than a handful of craftsmen, enameling is only seen on timepieces today by the most prestigious watch manufactures in the world. In the lead is Ulysse Nardin, with Donzé Cadrans applying an array of enameling techniques to its watches, including Grand Feu, Cloisonné, Champlevé and Flinqué.

Similar yet distinctive, each enamling process requires superior skill and precision, from the talent of those who bake the dials - those who simply know when the dials are finished, to those who painstakingly fill the cells with brilliant color, to those who bend the wire to create the "picture".

The complexity, exquisite detail, lifelike scenes, and overall magical effect achived through enameling are a few reasons why timepieces illustrating these techniques have been highly desired for centuries by collectors. Ulysse Nardin is ensuring a longstanding existence of the specialized enameling techniques, playing a part, once again, in the past, present and future of high horology.