The dial, the face of the watch

Credits: Floral Marquetry © Cartier

Truly the face of the watch, the dial is the expression of its innermost nature, displays its functions, and gives the watch its unique identity.

In this sense, the beauty of a Fine Watch dial is the most visible expression of the movement that brings it to life. Indeed, the layout of the mechanisms, wheels and complications that form the movement dictate the dial's appearance, in particular the position of the hands, sub-dials, apertures and other indications that compose it.

The designers and craftsmen who imagine the dial therefore do so with the specifications imposed by the movement in mind.

Dial-making is an art and a craft in its own right that demands considerable expertise, and very often "secrets" that are handed down from one generation to the next. Visually, the dial must satisfy a dual requirement: it must be pleasing to the eye and legible at a glance. A host of information must be harmoniously conveyed by means of hands or apertures on a surface that often barely exceeds a few square centimetres. Often a dial is separated into several sections and, beyond its refinement and beauty, its decor must highlight and distinguish these different zones. To achieve this, the Fine Watch dial-maker masters artisanal techniques that are often centuries-old.

The base of the dial is a sheet, sometimes gently cambered, of gold, silver or copper to which the dial-maker rivets tiny pins. He then traces the inner and outer contours of the hour-circle and other indicators. The dial is now ready to be decorated with engine-turning (guillochage).

In this centuries-old technique, which only a handful of craftsmen master, straight or circular lines are cut into the surface of the metal. Each line is just a few tenths of a millimetre wide and three to four hundredths deep. These lines overlap and intertwine to form an infinite variety of patterns that catch and reflect the light. One of the final stages is to diamond-drill then file the tiny holes that will carry the arbours for the hands. Space is hollowed out for the sub-dials, and applied numerals and markers are added to the hour-circle.

Some Fine Watch dials are also enamelled, painted or set with diamonds and other precious stones. Thus each dial has its own, unique face.

The dial maker

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