Dial printing

After the painstakingly intricate enamelling process is complete, we finish our dials by employing the traditional and widely used method of pad printing.

Morna working on the pad-printing of a Plum Fumé dial

With a history spanning over 200 years, pad printing transfers a 2D image onto a 3D object and is a process watchmakers have used for centuries.

Pad printing in its current form became widespread during the mid-20th century, with the introduction of silicone pads to the machinery. Before this development, printers used soft bags of gelatine, but this process was crude and time-consuming and produced inconsistent results.

These days, pad printers are fully automated, often powered by hydraulics. The silicone enables even the finest lines of a design to be transferred and makes pad printing the best method for getting ink to adhere to both flat and uneven surfaces.

To minimise problems such as chipping and flaking, we use resin-based inks, much like those found on old Scotch bottles, the designs of which are renowned for passing the test of time.

The ink is then poured onto the printing plate (cliché), which has been engraved with the dial design. Watchmakers often use a metal cliché, but we’ve found a ceramic plate produces a cleaner print and is more durable than its metal counterpart.

The design is engraved onto the plate to the minuscule depth of 24 microns (0.024 mm!), but remarkably, this is more than enough for dial printing.

A horizontal arm, equipped with a blade, and powered by hydraulics, disperses the ink across the plate to fill the engraving. The arm then retracts, scraping any excess ink away.

Printed Parisian Blue dials ready for curing

Next, a vertical arm with a silicone pad attached presses down into the ink, which has filled the engraved lines on the plate. The design transfers onto the silicone pad, which is now ready to print the layout onto the enamelled dial.

Because of the handmade nature of the enamel, each dial is slightly unique in shape and size. This means every dial requires individual positioning and adjusting to ensure the design lands in the correct position. It’s an intricate process and one that is otherwise unnecessary for objects with uniform dimensions, such as plain metal watch dials.

Once the dial is in the correct position, the vertical arm lowers, pressing the silicone onto the enamel and transferring the layout from pad to dial.

The dial printing is now complete. If left to sit in the open, the ink would take up to two days to dry naturally. To avoid smudging and ensure the ink sets quickly, we finish the process by curing the dial in our kiln.

With temperatures in the kiln reaching between 120 to 140 degrees Celsius, the process is complete in just 40 minutes.

The result: impeccably crisp numerals that are, quite literally, outstanding.

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