The art of enamelling
“Enamel has become a fountain of youth
for Piaget creations”
The Watch Quote™ - August 22nd, 2008
An age-old art
A distant cousin of crystal, enamel first emerged on the warm shores of the Mediterranean sea. From Ancient times, it embellished jewellery and other adornments before spreading throughout Europe. While initially used in goldsmithing and jewellery-making, watchmakers adopted it from the 15th century onwards. From then on, craftsmen perpetually fine-tuned their techniques to the point of developing four distinct methods: champlevé, cloisonné, flinqué and miniature enamelling thus became four different ways of playing with this time-defying material.
In Geneva, local artisans gradually became specialists in this technique that they used to decorate the dials and cases of the watches entrusted to them. Keenly aware of the value of this heritage, the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Piaget has decided to revive the prestige of enamelling, which had become a rarity on watches over the previous century. As confirmed by CEO Philippe Léopold-Metzger: “Enamel has become a fountain of youth for Piaget creations”. This is why the Manufacture chooses to create one-of-a-kind or limited edition pieces displaying a level of beauty and refinement only enamelling can help to achieve. After pioneering the field of ultra-thin mechanical movements and displaying its technical competence through major accomplishments such as the Tourbillon relatif, Piaget is now also reinforcing its mastery of the artistic crafts.
From crushed powder to shimmering beauty
Enamel is composed of glass combined with metal oxides serving as colourings. The infinite range of colours and shades of enamel results from various oxides that can be associated with enamelling, and their combination. Compared with “classic” enamels, the distinctive nature of “grand feu” enamels such as those used by Piaget lies in the fact that they reach their melting point at a far higher temperature, meaning between 820°C and 850°C. This technique makes them extremely pure and guarantees the longevity of the resulting models.
Raw enamel comes in lumps or as coarse powder. During the preparation process, the material is ground in a mortar to create an extremely fine powder, which is then thoroughly rinsed. The cleaned and ready-to-use enamels are stocked in distilled water.
Enamel is always placed on a metal die mould and only copper, silver and gold feature the qualities required for this purpose. In keeping with its constant pursuit of excellence, Piaget uses only gold on all its creations.
Depending on the thickness of the metal part, the latter will need to be enamel-backed. The enamel backing is extremely important, since it keeps the base in a state of fusion in such a way that it does not camber or buckle.
The enameller can then apply the enamel using a fine brush and plant glue and leave it to dry before proceeding to the firing process.