In Depth on Dials

In Depth on Dials (april 2016)

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It’s just about all you see of a watch. The dial draws the eye, expresses the style of the timepiece and showcases the movement’s complications. For some craftsmen, it’s their entire profession: ‘dial-maker’. The dials crafted by the watchmakers featuring in the Ekso Watches Gallery are genuine works of art…

We’re used to saying that the movement is the heart of the watch; if this is true, then the dial is its face. Indeed, this is quite logical, since we often call it by the latter! It’s the part of the watch that expresses its personality and its style. This plate, usually round, owes its name to the Latin word dies, ‘day’, and the medieval Latin word dialis, ‘daily’, which also referred to a clock dial. It bears numerals and other figures allowing the wearer to read the time or other information.

Today, fine watchmakers make their dials from brass or precious metals like gold and silver. They might be painted, lacquered, enameled, decorated with ‘guillochage’ (hand or engine-turned patterns) directly into the metal’s surface, coated with a mother-of-pearl veneer or even set with diamonds.

Sometimes the dial disappears completely, allowing the gaze right through to the very heart of the mechanism, with all the cogwheels on view. This is what we call a skeleton watch.

A major component in a watch, the dial is an opportunity for the watchmaker to demonstrate all of his or her artistic talent. It seems that, in this domain, creativity has no limits: we’ve seen dials made from meteorite, scrap metal, mammoth tusk, fossilized wood, precious fabric, mosaic, even butterfly wings, bird feathers and flower petals!

Enameling techniques represent everything that is difficult about crafting a dial; it requires genuine artistic skill. Whether it is a grand feu enameling, champlevé, cloisonné, plique-à-jour or sous fondant, it’s a task that requires the greatest expertise. Multiple firings in the kiln at temperatures of over 800°C can ruin days of work with just the slightest mistake: 30 to 60 hours are sometimes needed to produce a dial in the style of a painting, for example, with around twenty layers of enamel being applied.

This only confirms the status of the new Kari Voutilainen watches, with enameled or beautifully hand-engraved dials, as genuine masterpieces.

Also masterpieces are the timepieces produced by Ludovic Ballouard. For example, the Upside Down Platinum, which not only has a truly unique way of displaying the time, but also a dial combining gold, diamonds and mother-of-pearl marquetry. And what about his Milky Way model, whose creamy blue dial gets its color from Galalith, a polymer of casein, or in other words milk! Swiss milk, of course…

Ekaterina Sotnikova

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