After the drawing for the dial has been completed, the first step is the creation of the dial blank that will become the face of the watch. The seconds subdial is given its characteristic background grooves and a central hole is drilled for the cannon pinion on which the hour and minute hands will later be set (1). The partially worked dial is then thoroughly finished and cleaned (2), then given a primary coating for the color layers and printing that will later be applied (3).
After the colors have been applied in a dust free environment and have completely dried, the numbers, indexes and other dial markings will be printed using tamponnage technique. In this system all the marks to be printed are first engraved into a highly polished steel plate; thereafter these engraved depressions are filled with paints of various colors chosen for the dial. A specially shaped transfer ‘nub’ of flexible silicone is then used to pick up the paints from the steel plate (generally one color at a time), thereafter, the blank is set into place and the nub is pressed down, transferring the paint to the dial surface. This very traditional technique is an art form all on its own, and becomes increasingly complex and delicate as more colors are added to the dial’s surface.
The engraved steel plate ready to have paint applied
Before and after shots of the taponnage process
Case production and finishing is a multi-faceted process; it of course starts with a thorough drawing of all details that will allow the case to perfectly enclose the precious movement and provide it protection against water and moisture.
For me personally, a good case design should always feel comfortable on the wrist and simultaneously possess a classic elegance so that it will always look contemporary in a manner independent of changes in taste in fashion. Many of these aspects are determined by the shape of the lugs and the way they will meet the strap, together with the areas where the sapphire glass and case sides meet the front and back bezel.
The first production steps are stamping operations in which the rough basic outline of the watch case is created from a larger piece of metal, further repeated as required. This is followed by a time-consuming milling operation that brings the material to its final dimensions followed by fine finishing and hand polishing operations.
A primary step in the roughing out of case material
The roughly prepared piece (above) before milling operations, and the finished and polished case together with front bezel (below left)
The roughly prepared piece (upper right) before milling operations, and the finished and polished case together with front bezel (below left)
Machines, however accurate, still require human supervision and control over the smallest details in order to produce a perfect case.
The design of my minute and hour hands is inspired by my background in horological restoration work; however, my goal was not simply to make a copy of an existing hand, but rather to capture the elegance of traditional hands and combine their aesthetic with contemporary legibility. For this reason, from the very first sketches, I also wanted my hand design to have an integrated possibility of using Super LumiNova in the most legible manner possible. This is combined with a traditional hand bluing technique.
Blued hands and screws are certainly attractive details that catch the eye of watch collectors; however, the function of bluing specific parts of a watch was traditionally protective, in order to seal the metal surface of the hands from the influences of possible corrosion over the long term. Commercial watch manufactures normally utilize a chemical coating to achieve this, whereas traditionally it was done by hand on a one-by-one basis, using heat followed by a cooling down of the part in air, or drenched in water or oil according to the taste of the watchmaker.
My process of hand bluing starts by heating the particular hand in a layer of special sand over the flame of a small alcohol lamp, then removing it from the sand when the correct temperature (and color) has been reached; thereafter it is then allowed to slowly cool down at room temperature. For smaller parts like screws, a small metal holder is used following a similar heating process.
Since it is impossible to heat the thicker parts of the hand the same amount as the thinner parts, the result is that hands blued this way are instantly recognizable by the chromatic passage from any shade of dark blue to the spectrum of dark purple and everything in between, following a pattern concurrent with the taper, rounding and form of the hand. Furthermore, this very delicate change of color will be different in each identically manufactured hand, even when they are of the same shape.
If the taper of the one hand is a miniscule fraction of a millimeter different from the next, it will also spread the heat slightly differently within the hand, thus the chromatic color changes will be in slightly dissimilar places.
In large production facilities of course, there is no time for work executed like this, and with multiple thousands of watches in production, the assembly line also demands a uniform and clear definition of ‘blue’ which is not workable with the subtle, organic color changes of traditional methods.
The result is that the majority of blued hands destined for the mass production market are given a chemical bluing treatment, therefore dipped in a color bath that results in a uniform color with no chromatic changes. On a purely technical note, chemical bluing will leave an exterior layer that does not bond closely to the metal; with hand bluing it is the metal itself that takes on the bluish color, so there is no coating liable to flake or fall off.
Before (left) and after (right) the hand blueing process
More details in the Video
At my atelier all forms of finishing and polishing can be executed such as anglage, perlage, lapping, brushing of all kinds such as snailing and sunray patterns, circular graining, bluing, beveling, surface treatments, black polishing, burnishing and more. Several of these techniques are used in the Ω project watches.
The lapping of the bridges
This is a delicate work that requires a gentle yet firm hand; if one polishes too strongly, the red gold finish will be totally removed and the part will be ruined. Too little pressure, and the result will be uneven. Constant interim cleaning off of the paste and visually checking of the part during this process is therefore required. Different pastes are used depending on the part being treated and the requisite gloss of the finish that needs to be achieved. These pastes come in all types and granularity, using diamond or corundum dust particles of different sizes in an emulsion. The paste is first spread out evenly across an area on a glass or metal plate, and the part is moved carefully back and forth with delicate pressure.