If the structure of the watch case is like the skeleton of a human body, then the decoration of the movement and the watch case is like shebin and beauty. The structure of the case provides a harmonious proportion for the watch, which resembles beautiful muscle curves and skin beauty. Because the clock components are very small, even in Switzerland, which is dominated by mass machine production, the modification of these components has to be done manually or semi-manually. To ensure unity, workers often rely on machinery. Take the circular pattern (Perlé, or perlage) as an example. The grinding rotor is driven by a motor. The worker has to move it down by hand once to grind each pattern. The grinding intensity and time are manually controlled.
Less than a hundred digit artisans
At present, guilloché is the best expression of manual craftsmanship on watches. This was a nearly lost process and was restored in Germany, France and Switzerland more than a decade ago. Chiseling, also known as a rose engraving machine, uses the mechanical rotation to sculpt various patterns under the pre-designed pattern plate. This process relies on hand to control the uniformity of the engraving, so although it is mechanical, it is more inclined to the manual process. There are currently less than a hundred masters who are proficient in the use of piercing. Recently, many factories use industrial methods (such as stamping, friction pressure, or engraving machines) to quickly produce engraved patterns. But true luxury watches are only hand-engraved. A few high-end brands such as Breguet are still using guilloché. Interestingly, in order to distinguish the fast and cheap pseudo-engraving on the market, Breguet printed the word guilloché main on its guilloché dial. The addition of the word ‘main’ is somewhat ironic to the current watch industry that has been largely replaced by machines. Most of Breguet’s dials, except for the mother-of-pearl material and the sports dial, are hand-engraved. This process adds a lot of manual value to the Breguet watch.
More advanced touches are rare on Swiss watches
In the history of horology, British watchmaking (from nautical astronomical clocks to pocket watches) has reached the most brilliant period in the past century, regardless of its precision or beauty. The height of British watchmaking in the modification of the movement has never been surpassed. Because British watchmaking is very demanding on manual craftsmanship, Swiss watchmaking emphasizes the advantages of industrialization and modernization. There are not many brands in Switzerland that have inherited the traditional craftsmanship of ancient timepieces in terms of movement modification. Breguet is one of them. Because Breguet is a French watch brand with a similar status to British watchmaking.
Mirror polishing spéculaire / black polishing, more common in pocket watches and some independent watchmakers’ works, such as Philippe Dufour, Roger W. Smith and so on. English means black polishing. As the name suggests, it is because the mirror surface is smooth and there are no scratches or rough spots. It often reflects the darker light in the room and looks like a black surface. Mirror polishing is extremely difficult, because slight scratches can be left on the parts. The polishing process requires superb craftsmanship and patience. Polished parts fully show the color of the part (gold, red gold, steel) and also contrast with other modification processes (such as matte treatment), so that the surface of the movement has the depth and contrast of color.
The frosting process produces a matte-like matte effect on the K gold parts of the movement. It is more common in pocket watches and some high-end watches, such as Breguet’s 7027 and British independent watchmakers. The batch solution of most Swiss brands is actually sand blasting. If you observe carefully, the surface of the sand blast is the texture of the egg shell. The true matte finish is polished by a grinding wheel equipped with a very thin steel brush, which requires the technician’s hands to be extremely stable. Many small edges or grooves on the part must be ground and uniform. This process is time-consuming and labor-intensive and has not been used by Swiss brands.
Case and movement decoration often cross
Many processes are based on the modification of the metal working surface, so the decoration of the movement and the case is often used crosswise. For example, Perlé, or Perlage, is mainly used for the decoration of the main splint with a large area in the movement, but because its regular fish-scale texture is very beautiful, it is also often used for the decoration of the case. For example, Breitling The Bentley series BfB uses ring beading on its bezel, and Jaeger-LeCoultre also uses ring beading on the bottom plate of its iconic Reverso series. As for other modifications, such as straight-line drawing, ring-shaped drawing and even Geneva ripple, they are widely used on the movement and the case. Another modification method, chamfering, is the most commonly used modification of the movement splint. In the decoration of the case, there is a similar chamfering effect, but it is completed by a more complicated process. For example, the Royal Oak case of Audemars Piguet is drawn from two sides on the polished case, and the polished part left in the middle is similar to chamfering.
The basic structure of the case: top to bottom, bezel, trunk, bottom cover
Finishing: Polished / Mirror (Poli / Miroir), also called polished Brushed / Satiné (also brushed / satin finished)
Sand blasted, less applied.
The texture doté, such as the coin pattern unique to the Breguet and Parmigiani cases, is like the pearl pattern of the Breitling Bentley series.
Liner attaché, as in some versions of Hublot.
Decoration of the movement
The most common Swiss watch movements are based on mechanized or semi-manual modification. For example, perlage sanding is to use the power of the machine and the rotating grinding head to manually complete each ‘pearl’ sanding one by one.
Coté de Geneve / Geneva stripe
Sun ray pattern Soleillé / Sun ray
Straight-line drawing Brossé lineaire / brushing, the traditional craft is called graine, pay attention to using a material called pierre gomme-laque / schellac stone (precursor of sandpaper) to polish the parts to produce a delicate uniform texture.
Perlé, or perlage,
The splint carved Gravé / Engraving is more common in British or German brands on watches.