Wristwatch with cloisonné enamel dial by Vacheron Constantin “The Queen” from the Metier d’Art Florilège series. Image Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.
LONDON - Watches with cloisonné enamel dials are amongst the most collectible of all wristwatches. The expense and skill required to produce such decorative handmade dials is immense and, of course, this is reflected in their monetary worth. Enamel dials of all varieties have traditionally been popular with collectors since, unlike metal dials, they are not susceptible to oxidation and water damage, which can otherwise ruin a metal plate.
Vacheron Constantin made in 1953 with cloisonné enamel dial, Sotheby’s New York, lot 158, 6th December 2011, sold for $170,500.
The heyday of the cloisonné enamel dial came during the1950s, however, even at that time, very few pieces were made and examples by the major houses can now fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. In recent years, the cloisonné enamel dial has enjoyed something of a renaissance, although production numbers still remain extremely low given the cost, time and skill required to make them.
At the SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) in Geneva this year, Vacheron Constantin launched a spectacular series of ladies’ watches with cloisonné enamel dials called the Metier d’Art Florilège. The dials, which show the immense skill of Vacheron Constantin’s artisans, are based upon botanical drawings by Robert Thornton, first published in 1799.
The China Limodoron from Robert Thornton’s “The Temple of Flora”, image courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.
Below are illustrations detailing the principle stages in the manufacture of Vacheron Constantin’s ‘China Limodoron’ cloisonné enamel dial from the Metier d’Art Florilège series.
The gold dial plate during the guillochage stage, image courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.
The first process in the manufacture of Vacheron Constantin’s ‘Limodoron’ dial is the engraving of the gold dial plate with the outline of the plant. The guillocheur then adds depth and texture to the surface by producing a series of symmetrical motifs and wave form patterns, always keeping in mind the effect that the engravings will have when seen through the translucent enamel at the end of the process.
The cloisonné gold wires being laid onto the dial plate, image courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.
Once the plate has been decoratively engraved, the enameller uses thin gold wires to mark the outlines of the plant and its flowers.
The enamel paint being applied to the dial, image courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.
The enamel painter will then fill the sections between the wires with different enamel colours before the dial is fired in a kiln at around 800ºC. This process is repeated several times to intensify the colours and alter the translucency of the enamels. The effects of the guillocheur can now be fully appreciated as the differing depths of the engraved surface of the dial plate play with the translucency of the enamel above and create depth and tonal variation in the colours. A final layer of glazed enamel is then placed over the completed surface of the dial to create an even sheen. The end result is a true work of art, lustrous, vibrant and unique. If well cared for, it will maintain its richness of colour indefinitely, like a Byzantine mosaic.
Wristwatch with cloisonné enamel dial by Vacheron Constantin “China Limodoron” from the Metier d’Art Florilège series. Image Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin.