The world’s first fumé enamel dial

by Lewis Heath  - October 23, 2019

Enamel behaves differently when applied to different metals. Here at anOrdain we use copper as standard, so for our enamellers it was a moment of serendipity while experimenting with enamel on silver, that led us to a big discovery. A small warping in the silver dial meant that when sanding the enamel flat, the now uneven base revealed a translucent window to the silver below. The underside of the dial must sit flush with the movement, so the warp had rendered it useless, but the effect was intriguing. What followed was a year long process of synthesising this error in a uniform fashion. They had accidentally created a fumé effect.

 

A Model 2 with Green Fumé dial


Fumé quite simply means smoked, and is used to describe a dial that gradates from a solid hue in the centre to a dark rim. The effect is striking, and suggestive of a fuliginous patina that evokes a sense of age. We appreciated the parallels between our fumé dial, which sprang from a mistake, and the phenomenon of tropical dials, so named for their years of UV exposure which lends a bleached appearance - of interest to us, as it proves how a moment of happenstance can establish itself as a meaningful and distinct artifact.

To recreate our fumé effect in a reliable way and without warping the underside, we started to design a metal blank on which to enamel. Designing it was fairly easy, finding someone willing and able to make it was not. Eventually we prevailed, and were off to Birmingham, as Struthers Watchmakers had provided us with a contact.

 

Fumé dial production


Birmingham's jewellery quarter is a pretty unique place, and still the centre of jewellery work in the UK though just a fragment of its scale in days gone by. We visited a company that had been operating in the same building since the 1700s, and in the basement of a 300+ year old metal-based crafts factory, found a man with a solution. From stamping and engraving to enamelling and painting, this museum-like building once would have been filled with hundreds of skilled craftspeople, today there are about twenty. In cellars that seemed to go on forever, the stamping room held the most amazing collection of stamping dies, and stamps for coins and medals and badges, dating back as far as the 1690s! 

Watch dials were new to this old factory, so we spent some time discussing and working out how we could adapt the process, and after some trial and error we began to get results. The silver dials are stamped to our specification using ancient machinery intended for coins and medals, and brought back to Glasgow to be enamelled

.

 

The blue fumé dial appears almost liquid.


The colours are bright, but nuanced, and appear smoother or more crystalline, depending on the colour of the enamel and its reaction to silver. Perhaps it's because the studio is beginning to get colder, or perhaps it’s the evocative nostalgia of the fumé, but to us these dials conjure mythic images of Scotland - the crystalline purple dial like a shaded fall of fresh snow and the green a dancing sky of stars - or northern lights? Scotland’s bleaker season seen through a romantic lens, turquoise becomes a glacial pool, orange, the hot earthen smell of a peat fire and blue a cloudless night drawing in.

Thus far, our focus in the workshop has been on reverse engineering historic pieces in order to master traditional crafts; the work on the fumé has been the start of us building on that and experimenting to produce something that is distinctly new.While we never set out with the ambition to create a fumé dial, we feel we have come upon something rather special - to the best of our knowledge, our fumé dial is the first to be achieved using enamel

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