Watch dial enamelling
Making watch dials using vitreous enamel on a metal base.
|Historic area of significance||Birmingham and London|
|Area currently practised||Glasgow and Birmingham on a very small scale|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||5-10
(6 at AnOrdain )
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
||5-10 fine art and jewellery enamellers who have worked on watch dials from time to time.|
|Current no. of trainees||1|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
Enamel watch dials appeared in the UK in the mid-18th century, gradually gaining popularity over the earlier chased and repoussé and chased metal champlevé dials. The UK made most of the world’s watches until the second half of the 18th century, and the manufacture of vitreous enamel watch faces was a widespread craft. Today it’s a very highly prized technique amongst collectors but the only master craftsmen producing them are in Switzerland and Japan.
There are what’s called ‘soft’ or ‘cold’ enamel dials, which aren’t enamel at all, they’re resin, and people make those in the UK, but it has nothing to do with enamel other than in name.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- The watchmaking industry in the UK is tiny, so there is a limited number of watchmakers to sell them to. It is possible to supply overseas watchmakers, but historically enamelling would normally form part of a local watch part supply ecosystem. The Swiss make some amazing enamel dials so they probably wouldn’t source from the UK even if it were an option.
Craftspeople currently known
- anOrdain, Glasgow – the main company making vitreous (or ‘grand feu’) enamel watch faces in the UK.
- Struthers Watchmakers and Deakin & Francis, Birmingham have worked together to make enamel dials but on a small scale.
- Robert Loomes has made enamel dials on a small scale.
There is one maker in England who comes from a family of enamellers and has enamelled dials in the past, but he is no longer doing so due to illness.
There may be some ‘leisure’ dial enamellers, but it’s not something you can easily do well without investing more time than a hobbyist could (in my opinion).
The difference between watch dial enamelling and jewellery enamelling is down to tolerances. To fit within a watch the enamel dial needs to be perfectly flat, of a uniform thickness down to a tenth of a millimetre and have a completely consistent finish. The dials also need to be much thinner than that of jewellery enamel.
It took almost 4,000 hours over three years at the bench for anOrdain to perfect their first enamel dial.