When considering the pricing of a modern luxury wristwatch, some of the first topics to consider are R&D, (in the case of precious metal watches) the pure material value or the filigree movement. On the other hand, standardized elements such as sapphire crystal, the case or the dial, are less important.
You’d think. Normally, this assessment is correct, but as is so often the case, exceptions confirm the rule, especially when it comes to enamel dials. In contrast to industrially manufactured dials, which are stamped from a piece of metal and then further processed, enamel dials are underestimated marvels that require enormous craftsmanship. Here we take a brief look at the underlying production process to understand how the high price is justified.
First of all, it can be said that there are many different production processes, and these all have extravagant names such as Cloisonné, Champlevé or Grisaille. However, the most common is considered to be the Grand Feu process (in English: big fire), of which we will delve deeper in this article.
Without wanting to digress into a highly technical explanation, in layman’s terms the Grand Feu process is a special powder applied to a dial copper blank. This powder is then placed in a kiln at approximately 800°C, so that the powder melts and “burns” onto the blank. This process is repeated until, for example, the desired colour and thickness is achieved.
Despite all experience, a perfect Grand Feu enamel dial is incredibly difficult to achieve, as it can quickly burst or break during the firing process. Even specialists like Donzé Cadrans, who produce for Ulysse Nardin or Patek Philippe, for example, state that scrap rates of up to 75% are quite common. In other words, three-quarters of the dials produced cannot be sent to the customer – that’s how demanding the production process is.
However, the result of a perfect enamel dial is inimitable – in the truest sense of the word – and is well worth the effort. While other techniques, such as lacquering, can achieve a visually similar result, nothing can match the radiant shine and creamy texture of genuine enamel dials.
Well, the production of said dials is undoubtedly a laborious and therefore expensive undertaking, but is it € 10,000 expensive? If you believe manufacturers like Ulysse Nardin, Breguet or Jaeger-LeCoultre, yes.
But if you asked the young Scotsmen behind anOrdain, the results would surely be a different one. The brand, whose name was inspired by the roadside loch Loch an Ordain in the Scottish Highlands, has made the production of inexpensive Grand Feu enamel dials its business, and with great success.
Today the brand offers two collections: Model 1 and Model 2, all of which have contemporary diameters of 36 and 38mm respectively, and are equipped with Sellita calibres. For the entry level watch, anOrdain asks for a fair £ 1,320 (approx. € 1,430), but in return you get a very handsome automatic watch with a genuine Grand Feu dial. Pretty cool.
If you don’t like “microbrands”, you can enamel dials at established brands as well. Seiko, for example, also has a watch featuring a white enamel dial in its Presage collection, Ref. SPB047, which has a RRP of € 1,100.
The majority of watches with enamel dials are beyond the four-digit price range, as production is extremely complex, time-consuming and therefore expensive. However, if you have nevertheless succumbed to the charm (and don’t want to spend three months’ salary on it), the enamel experts at anOrdain are your best bet. For under € 2,000, depending on the model and version, you can get one of the most time-honored watchmaking techniques on your wrist for an extremely fair price.