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In watchmaking, there are enamel dials, and then there are Grand Feu enamel dials. While plenty of brands describe their dials as enamel, that hardly begins to capture the artistry, craftsmanship, and dedication required to create true Grand Feu enamel. This enameling process, in which each dial is made by hand, follows a meticulous series of production steps, including multiple firings at specific temperatures, constant inspections, and a high rejection rate in the pursuit of perfection. Not surprisingly, it can take years, if not decades, to master the technique. As a result, there are very few enamelers in the world willing and able to create true Grand Feu enamel dials. Ématelier, one of the few masters of Grand Feu enameling, is proud to announce a new collection of watches featuring sunken, double-sunken, and cloisonné Grand Feu enamel dials.

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Ématlier is not your typical watch brand. In fact, one could argue that it is a manufacturer of boutique, and often bespoke, Grand Feu enamel dials that also happens to make watches. Much of what Ématelier does is create custom watch dials — miniature works of art — for clients’ watches. Throughout Ématalier’s gallery, you’ll find miniaturized reproductions of famous artworks from Chagall, van Gogh, and Matisse, intricately detailed scenes of plants and animals, and celestial tapestries. These mini-masterpieces require a host of specialized techniques, but the process of creating even a relatively simple (for Grand Feu) monochrome enamel dial is incredibly complex and can include sunken dials, double-sunken dials, and different colors for both the dial and markings.

Many brands describe their dials as enamel, though that broad descriptor often encompasses materials like porcelain, ceramic, lacquer, or just about any glossy dial. Though these dials can be beautiful and flawless, the process is nothing like that required to create a true Grand Feu enamel dial. Unfortunately, manufacturers often misleadingly use the term “enamel” in order to associate their dials with the authentic, handmade craftsmanship of Grand Feu enamel.

Every Grand Feu dial, no matter how simple or complex, is completely handmade. The process begins with coating a base metal with layers of glass powder on the front and back and baking in a kiln at 750C, then adding printing with enamel and firing again at 550C. Simple, right? Hardly.

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Depending on the effect Ématelier is trying to achieve, its artisans may choose gold, silver, copper, steel, or another metal, as the base material can render the same color differently when heated in the kiln. The key is to choose the correct metal that will avoid warping, fire-scale inclusions, surface bubbles, and other imperfections. In other words, the color and surface of the finished product require starting with the appropriate base material.

Once the base material has been chosen, the next step is to begin applying layer after layer of enamel. Each layer must be baked at an extremely high temperature, typically around 750C. Even a few-degree deviation from the appropriate temperature — or a few seconds too long in the kiln — can increase the risk of cracking, warping, or creating undesirable effects that will ultimately result in the dial being rejected. Typically, more layers corresponds with a better-quality, more sumptuous dial, yet every additional layer adds to the risk of failure. As such, it takes years of experience and expertise to consistently achieve successful results.

After each layer of enamel has been precisely and expertly applied, the next step is polishing. The dial may look flawless coming out of the kiln, but polishing can reveal internal bubbles or other flaws that lead to the dial being rejected. Not surprisingly, this is an extremely delicate procedure and one more reason that so few brands create true Grand Feu enamel dials.


 Once the enamel layers have been laid down, it’s time to add markings and indices. This is a much more complex process than printing with regular inks, requiring specialized inks that must be returned to the kiln for firing at approximately 550C in order to melt the ink into the surface without damaging the base enamel. As with enameling the dial, any deviations in firing time or temperature can lead to disaster. The task gets even more complex when adding different fonts with varying line thickness or lines and designs with multiple colors. Each added detail requires more firings, more layers, and more complexity. To ensure the best outcomes and retain control over each step in the process Ématelier manufactures its own printing plates in-house.

Throughout the process of creating the dial, the artisans at Ématelier must also keep a key point in mind: The dial is just one part of the overall watch. Each dial will require specific tolerances in diameter and thickness, the location of the dial feet, and other parameters that will ensure that the dial integrates seamlessly with the finished watch. In the end, each dial is encoded with the production date, reference to dimensions, plate material, enamel(s) used, number of firings, firing temperatures, and other characteristics of the manufacturing process to ensure consistency across production runs.

A Grand Feu enamel dial is much more than just a dial. It is a 100% handmade work of art, crafted by skilled artisans who have perfected their craft over many years. With so much that can go wrong, even with the most experienced artisans, rejection rates for dials are extremely high, and Grand Feu enamel dials simply cannot be made in mass quantities. Compare a Grand Feu enamel dial to a mass-production dial under a loupe and you will, indeed, find tiny imperfections. These are far from defects — rather, they are the “beauty marks” that prove that each dial was constructed by expert hands, not machines. You can learn more about Ématelier’s process of enameling black dials here. To learn more about Ématelier and the new 2024 Sprezzatura collection of watches, please visit the brand’s website.

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