Domestication of metal

26.05.2017

Domestication of metal

Among the types of luxury watches finish the hand engraving takes a special place, harmoniously complementing the philosophical ideal of man and the beauty of the mechanism he created. An intricate decorative pattern on a dial or a case makes the production of Swiss manufactories into a visually distinguishable piece of art, which can be evaluated not only by experts in high mechanics.


Line of line

Engraving on metal surfaces has been widely applied in watchmaking since its formation. Cases and lids of vintage pocket products were traditionally decorated with ornaments, coats of arms or inscriptions. Although with the development of technology this noble craft was almost completely taken over by machines, the demand for the precise work of an artisan still exists, especially in the market of haute horlogerie (high horology). Let the decoration of modern materials like titanium require a special approach, and actually only a laser can handle with a sapphire, the basic principle of the profession remains the same throughout centuries - to see on the smooth surface the future image and to remove the excess. Everything by the precepts of Michelangelo. A hand of a real master always differs from a seamless precise work of a mechanism, although the difference is not always obvious by eye. One may call it tiny imperfections or emotional coloring, but our subconscious mind perceives a pattern created by a man more supportive. It seems more lively and pleasant to us. Besides, it is impossible to create two absolutely identical images without machinery, and therefore, your watch will be unique to some degree.

A fine thing

Once many Swiss companies absolutize the faith to the centuries-old traditions, it is small surprise that the engraving on products is often done manually. A creation of each item takes an experienced specialist hundreds hours of the finest work. Volume figures, floral patterns, portraits, elegant initials on the back cover – the range of and old craft application in watchmaking is truly wide. Yet, the main types of engraving can be divided into three categories: the painting of case (including lugs, bezel and crown), dial and caliber itself. In order not to overload the image, designers usually choose one of the options.

The work begins with a sketch on paper, then the drawing is transferred onto the work surface with an ordinary pencil, and it is fixed onto a special block. Armed with a thin metal tool, a master cuts the material with one arm, and with the other, he turns the workpiece, helping lines to make perfectly smooth turns. In case of an error, most likely, it will be impossible to correct anything, and the expensive workpiece flies in the trash. It is not an easy task, because the strokes reach sometimes only tenths of a millimeter.


Quiet heroic deeds

One can master the craft only in a world old way: years of tireless work, a long sequence of trial and error with all the incidents like hitting the hand with the blade. In a sense, the only key advantage of modern masters over colleagues, who lived in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, becomes a stereomicroscope.


In case of success, a special glory is also not worth waiting. Few professionals like Christoph Bernardo, the head of the respective unit by Blancpain, occasionally give master classes in front of invited collectors. However, as in the case of watchmakers, brands tend not to position individual artisans as stars. Commissioning for a product into one of the leading manufactories, you have the right to expect exceptional quality from all its subdivisions anyway. On the other hand, one also never considered the creators of the engravings real authors, because the basis was always a work of an artist. Their task is in many aspects like a job of a translator – to transmit a ready piece of work worthy into a three-dimensional format.


Form and celebration

Unlike the market leaders, smaller manufacturers usually do not keep a staff of experts in the field of métiers d'art (artistic craftworks conception). For engraving, guilloche, enamel painting and other intricate decorative techniques, they turn to independent studios like Olivier Vaucher SA. The company's portfolio includes such acclaimed products as the Richard Mille RM 26-02 Evil Eye and the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Knights Of The Round Table II. Figures of the knights on the dial of the second model do not exceed six millimeters in height, but their faces are very individual. Other tiny elements of the composition can boats no less detail, ranging from chainmail and finishing with swords.

Nevertheless, even if you prefer to a high concentration of ancient crafts on the dial a simple memorial inscription, it is not necessary to contact whomever. Some manufactures, such as IWC or Jaeger-LeCoultre, are ready to offer the customers some proven options. Perhaps such a product will be harder to sell in future, but should one deny himself a pleasure to receive a personalized, and therefore unique, item here and now?