Vitreous, or Grand Feu enamel, is the art of fusing glass to metal. The process involves a wafer thin metal disc and multiple layers of enamel powder that’s deftly sifted on, layer by layer, and fired at upwards of 800 degrees celsius. The result is a watch dial of less than a millimetre thick, with a perfectly flat and consistent finish.
Rising to the challenge of mastering one of the great crafts of watchmaking, our enamellers have, in five years, become experts in the field. Guided by the research our resident jeweller Adam Henderson conducted in anOrdain’s infancy, our three expert enamellers, Morna, Nicky and Sally have spent years refining the practice of enamel dial making.
Each of the enamellers graduated with a degree in jewellery before joining anOrdain, and have since spent time building up our in-house knowledge, by studying under enamellers working in different disciplines of enamel, such as cloisonné and champlevé. Below we outline the stages of making a Grand Feu enamel dial. You can also read about the stages of Fumé enamel dial making here.
Making a dial blank
It all begins with a disc being cut from a copper or silver sheet. Our enamalists cut these by hand, and then drill holes into which they can solder the 'dial feet.' The underside of the dial must first be ‘counter-enamelled’ to prevent the dial from bending when in the oven:
Preparing the enamel
Enamel is ground from lump form into a powder and applied to the metal base. A typical enamel is made up of silica, red lead and soda ash.
The first firing
The kiln is heated to over 830°C and the powdered dial is fired. The exact time in the kiln varies depending on the chemical make-up of a particular enamel. Once removed from the kiln and cooled, the dial is checked for inclusions or bubbles which are removed and refilled between each firing.
The process is repeated several times until the correct depth of colour and height are achieved. The final firing gives the dial a smooth sheen. The dials are printed using traditional pad-printing equipment. The printed dials are inspected through a loupe and if satisfactory, the ink is then cured.
The completed dials are passed on to our watch-makers, who can begin assembly. The watches are regulated and tested in six positions over a 48-hour period before they are ready to package and dispatch.
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