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Enamelling

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. As well as experimenting with ways of incorporating these techniques into our own enamel dials, the enamellers have developed a new method of grand feu enamelling, creating the first fumé enamel dial.

Our fumé dials are the result of a small mistake which led to months of rigorous development. While experimenting with enamel on a silver blank, the enamellers found the metal had a tendency to warp and dome, a fault that would technically render the dial useless, if not for the fact that when sanded flat, the enamel’s interplay with the metal formed an attractive gradient. An idea was sparked, and after months of rigorous experimentation, they were able to replicate the ‘mistake’ in a consistent way. With the fumé dial, we follow our existing manufacturing method, using a domed silver base, stamped in the same way a coin might be.


We’ve perfected the art of making grand feu dials, developing our own unique approaches along the way.



Making a Grand Feu dial

  • It all begins with a disc being cut from a copper or silver sheet...

  • ...our enamellers cut these by hand, and then drill the centre hole.

  • The underside of the dial must first be ‘counter-enamelled’ to prevent the dial from bending when in the oven.

  • 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 as.

  • The kiln is heated to over 800°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 printed dials are inspected through a loupe and if satisfactory, the ink is then cured. The completed dials are passed on to our watchmakers who can begin assembly.

A new development in enamelling, our fumé dials follow the same enamelling principles as our traditional grand feu dials, with a few unique steps.



Making a Fumé dial

  • We start with a sheet of pure silver which is stamped in a hydraulic press, much in the same way a coin might be. We work with a specialist in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter to make this - die sinking and stamping at these tolerances is only practiced by a few people today.

  • In the studio, the dial is textured and polished by hand. This process gives it a brighter, 'dimpled' appearance, reflecting the light in a multitude of directions once the enamel is applied. The underside of the dial is ‘counter-enamelled’ to prevent the dial from bending when in the kiln.

  • 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. Translucent enamels, like those used on our fumé dials tend to have a higher proportion of silica than opaque.

  • The kiln is heated to over 800°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 until the correct depth of colour and height are achieved. The final firing gives the dial a smooth sheen. The great challenge is in preventing cracking as dial rapidly heats and cools - silver and enamel expand and contract at different rates, and with only a tenth of a millimetre of enamel in places, this has taken great skill to achieve.

  • The dials are then 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 watchmakers who can begin assembly.

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