The dial colours of the Model 1 exude heritage, their rich tones calling on a universal penchant for tradition, all while remaining distinctly contemporary, and each has a story to tell. Hannah Forsyth examines the background of one of the original Model 1 enamel colours, Parisian Blue.
Paris - A City ‘Hallowed and Fashioned by History’
What is your favourite Paris street? Everyone has one. The most popular with visitors to the French capital include Avenue de Champs Elysees, Boulevard Saint Michel and Rue de Rivoli, and their replica street signs hang on the walls of tourists from all over the world.
Paris is renowned for its majestic edifices – the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Coeur Basilica and Notre Dame Cathedral come to mind instantly – but the city’s ubiquitous symbol hangs on the corner of every rue.
The unique design of the street sign includes the number of the city district (Arrondissement), the name of the thoroughfare and often also a biographical reference.
So, on the sign for the Allee Maria Callas, we learn that we are in the 16th Arrondissement and that she was an artiste lyrique who lived from 1923-1977. A few blocks away, on the Avenue Victor Hugo (1802-1885), we are told that he was ‘Ecrivain, Poete et Homme Politique’ - writer, poet and politician. Sometimes, an air of mystery is allowed to persist so that, in the 4th Arrondissement, we must wonder who the bad boys were who gave their name to Rue des Mauvais Garcons.
This information presents itself in distinct white letters on a resonant blue field, within a green frame - a combination that first adorned the city’s buildings and lampposts in the 1840s. Each and every sign embodies the city’s heritage, while the inky colouring of the enamelled plates exudes the contemporary style synonymous with the French capital.
The Parisian Blue - Origins and History
anOrdain’s Model 1 series pays its own homage with the Parisian Blue, using an enamel from Nouvelle-Aquitaine - a region in the southwest corner of the country with strong links to the enamelling world.
In its modern form, Nouvelle-Aquitaine consists of the ancient regions of Aquitaine, Poitou Charentes and Limousin, the latter of which was once the epicentre of champlevé enamel. During the 12th century, Limoges, the capital of Limousin, was filled with enamelling workshops.
Already acquainted with the region’s dyes through centuries of creating religious manuscripts, local craftspeople produced vast quantities of some of the finest and most famed enamel in the world. ‘Parisian Blue’, therefore, seems a fitting name for this unequivocally French enamel.
Although evocative of Parisian boulevards in its finished form, when the enamel arrives at the studio its shade is closer to ultramarine. Such variation in tone is not unusual, however. Often, powdered enamel appears lighter in colour than its final post-firing shade and, in some cases, the enamel powder looks almost white before the firing process transforms it.
Adding to the je ne sais quoi of the Parisian Blue’s allure is the enamel’s unique nature. Known as a semi-opaque enamel, it is neither transparent nor opaque, meaning that the enamel holds a degree of translucence. This semi-transparency allows for the depth of colour present in its finished form.
Making an Enamel Dial
The enamel arrives at the studio in lump form and must undergo rigorous treatment before being laid upon the dial. First, it is ground down to a fine powder using mortar and pestle, a process that requires patience and a fair amount of stamina. Making matters even more intricate is the requirement for the powdered enamel to be of an even, consistent fineness in order to achieve a smooth and uniform texture and tone upon the dial.
Once ground, the enamel powder is washed to remove any impurities. It is common practice for factories to use porcelain balls in the initial treatment of the enamel. However, these balls are liable to degradation during the factory treatment, and small fragments of porcelain can make their way into the enamel. Rinsing removes these and any other contaminants before use. Once washed, the enamel is applied to the dial with a paintbrush while still wet and is subsequently left to air dry before being fired in the kiln, fusing it to a glossy finish.
Using a paintbrush, the enamel is applied to the dial while still wet and left to air dry before being fired in the kiln, fusing it to a glossy finish.
So, while strolling down French boulevards remains out of reach for many of us during the pandemic, the Parisian Blue offers a taste of the city. Its style and heritage serve as a reminder of the infamous words uttered by Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca – we’ll always have Paris.