Enamel is a glassy substance deriving from silica, in origin transparent, that can be dyed by adding oxides of metallic nature. Once it is reduced to powder, the substance is amalgamated with water to create a homogenous paste that can be coated on a duly prepared surface, and then baked at very high temperatures, so as to blend with the surface itself and becoming extremely resistant.
There are four main techniques of enamelling, all extremely complex and all to be found in Patek Philippe watches.
The first technique is “cloisonné” in which a very thin gold foil is shaped according to the desired design on the dial, to which it is then fixed with a first layer of enamel. Subsequently, the cells created by the lamina are filled with enamel chosen accordingly to the colours of the design: often several steps and firings are necessary to reach the desired result.
The second technique is the “paillonné” which includes the setting of tiny gold flakes inside the enamel: these specks (paillons) of different shapes are embedded in several layers of transparent or colored enamel, so as to achieve the desired effect.
The third technique is the “champlevé”, which is very similar to “cloisonné”: the technique is actually the same, with the only difference that the surface of the cells is engraved previously. This procedure is usually carried out mechanically, as it is very complex. However, in the most particular and unique Patek Philippe pieces, it is entirely hand-engraved by specialists.
The fourth technique differs from the other three and is considered the most complicated and rare: the miniature. The enamel is not amalgamated with water but with oil, it is then applied directly onto the base with a very fine brush representing refined portraits, landscapes or scenes.
The four techniques may be combined in order to exploit the mix of enamels to create increasingly complex nuances and details. This requires skill, time and patience: just one flaw or a mere speck of dust might mean having to start the process all over again from the beginning.
Through the centuries enamelling has become an art typical of Geneva –unfortunately also increasingly rare nowadays – that sees Patek Philippe as one of its most important pioneers.
Patek Philippe’s enamel productions are to be found throughout all of its manufacture collections: from small pendulums, to decorative clocks, to wrist timepieces. The latter (Ref.5077) present mainly a Calatrava case with Dauphine watch hands.
Each year they are presented in limited series with few variations, and are coveted by collectors. The dials in each series have a visual theme centred on nature, animals, and history or are purely decorative.