Decorating and engraving the movement
Credits: Trimming © FHH
Most movements remain hidden from view, protected against humidity and dust inside their case. Some, though, can be admired through a sapphire crystal case back that reveals this complex geometry of wheels, bridges and mechanisms.
Even when the movement will not be visible through the case back; even when the watchmaker is the only person to ever contemplate this hidden beauty, a Fine Watch movement will always be richly decorated.
Why go to such trouble? Why insist on this seemingly superfluous task?
Each Fine Watch movement is individually and patiently assembled, adjusted and tested. The extreme care with which each part is finished is more than just a question of beauty; it also guarantees technical perfection, for no-one would devote hours to polishing, engraving and embellishing an imperfect part. Only once a part has been shaped and individually inspected is it ready to be decorated, then assembled. Even a movement that no-one will ever see is finished to the highest degree of beauty and perfection.
Nowhere is the delicacy and complexity of this finishing and embellishment more in evidence than in a "skeleton" watch whose transparency reveals the beauty and intricate structure of its movement. The watchmaker's decorative art finds its fullest expression.
In a Fine Watch movement, the least trace of machining is erased from the surface of each part. Every last wheel, the smallest pinion is smoothed, polished, circular-grained or countersunk. Each operation calls upon a specific manual technique and special tools that go back through centuries of tradition.
Many different techniques are employed, beginning with polishing each surface and edge. This requires a dexterous hand, as the polisher works with abrasive powders and pastes to modify the surface of the metal.
The different polishing and brushing techniques are a means of varying each part's appearance and how it reflects the light through patterns and textures:
brushing striates the
metal with more or less fine lines;
produces a softer sheen;
forms a pattern of overlapping concentric circles;
a sunray decoration
consists of lines radiating from a central point;
regarded as the most difficult technique, imparts a bright sheen to the
parts with spirals around a central point.
The edges of each part are polished and chamfered, an art in itself. The result is aesthetic as it creates a magnificent luminous effect, but also practical as polished and chamfered parts are more solid and more resistant to corrosion.
Often the surfaces of larger parts, such as bridges, are decorated with evenly-spaced, parallel lines, either straight or circular, achieved using a boxwood pad and a lathe. "Côtes de Genève" is one example.
Some parts are chased or engraved by hand. With extraordinary virtuosity, the engraver incises the metal to create patterns that give the entire movement the rare elegance and emotion that distinguish a Fine Watch.