New Technology Is Leading to the Development of Unprecedented Dial Complexity
Microtechnology adds unprecedented complexity to artisan-crafted dials.
If a mechanical watch’s movement can be defined as its beating heart, then the dial, naturally, would be its face. And just like the human countenance, a watch dial does more than simply transmit information, it endows the timepiece with expression and personality: edgy or classical, minimalist or ornate. In addition to the contemporary renaissance in decorative métiers d’art that has gone far beyond traditional techniques, dials in general are becoming more intricate, layered, and distinctive thanks to modern technology that indulges the imaginations of today’s practitioners of the art.
For generations, even the most esteemed watchmaking houses contracted independent dial makers to produce their designs. But as part of the wave of industry consolidation at the turn of this century, dial-making houses such as Léman Cadran, Natéber, and Cadrans Flückiger were scooped up by large brands and holding companies. Prescient executives realized that not only could they more nimbly control their quality and quantity but their acquisitions could provide an additional revenue stream by supplying quality-conscious competitors.
“To make dials, you need people who are extremely talented with their hands and they need to know chemistry as well,” says Nicholas Rudaz, director of Franck Muller, which purchased Les Fils d’Arnold Linder in the Swiss Jura more than a decade ago. “There are a lot of chemical reactions with the paints and varnishes, and it is a very difficult and unique process.” One Franck Muller dial requires at least 12 different layers of lacquer that must be applied and allowed to fully dry, layer by layer, in a painstaking, time-consuming operation. The brand’s characteristic slanted retro numerals are also hand-painted rather than printed.
Franck Muller’s new Vanguard collection presents a different approach to those signature digits, with each number in relief and polished or brushed finishes done by hand. The Curvex model’s case, crystal, and dial are all domed, further adding to the challenge.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of Quadrance et Habillage, a dial-making entity established by Parmigiani Fleurier’s parent company, the Sandoz Family Foundation. Housed in the same La Chaux-de-Fonds building as the group’s case maker, Quadrance et Habillage employs about 20 craftspeople who produce the multilevel dials with contrasting textures and colorations that give Parmigiani watches their distinct aesthetic. The facility also supplies dials to Audemars Piguet and A. Lange & Söhne, among others.
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