Different Dial Finishing Techniques From Affordable Watch Brands Under 5K: Enamelling, Engraving, Stamping, and More...
 

Different Dial Finishing Techniques From Affordable Watch Brands Under 5K: Enamelling, Engraving, Stamping, and More...

6 min read
Rob Nudds

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Reviews

Rob Nudds

Categories

Reviews

If you said to me that a watch’s case is the most important thing when it comes to establishing an icon, I’d agree with you. I might be inclined to argue that a bracelet, when present, holds even more sway in that regard, but obviously, that only applies to watches presented on bracelets to begin with. What I’m sure we could agree on beyond the importance of those external elements, however, is that a watch’s dial is its heart. Through a watch’s face, the soul of the piece and the emotion poured into its creation by the craftspeople responsible for bringing it to life can be appreciated.

H. Moser & Cie Streamliner EnamelH. Moser & Cie Streamliner Enamel - Credit H. Moser & Cie

There are no shortcuts in good watch design. A prize-winning case cannot make up for a lacklustre dial, and the same is almost true in reverse.

However, while I’d never encourage a watchmaker to focus solely on the dial and ignore the case, it is fair to say that show-stopping dials do seem to hold more value in the minds and hearts of consumers. 

Take the recent experiments in fumé enamelling conducted by high-end heavyweight H. Moser & Cie. The first fumé enamel dial presented by the brand came in the Endeavour collection. Even though the Endeavour is a solid seller for Moser, its case shape is relatively unremarkable. Of course, for Moser, that’s entirely the point. The brand needs a simpler, more classic core model to offset the ambition of its Streamliner collection and its even wilder forays into the cheese-making business (and so on).

H. Moser & Cie Streamliner EnamelH. Moser & Cie Streamliner Enamel - Credit WatchGecko

 
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£138.00
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£138.00
Winslow V-Stitch Patina Leather Watch Strap - Blue Jeans
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Winslow V-Stitch Patina Leather Watch Strap - Platinum
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Winslow V-Stitch Patina Leather Watch Strap - Blue Jeans
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Upon its release, media coverage focused on the dial and the technique Moser claimed to have pioneered (despite the result looking basically identical to the dials of Scottish maker anOrdain, who we’ll get to later). And while the feedback for the dial was positive and the watch reportedly moved well enough, there was not the mad, salivating yearning for that piece that the dial itself might have deserved.

Then came the smaller Streamliner, released towards the back end of 2023. When I saw that watch for the first time, I was genuinely moved to “tear” (it was a single drop of elation that escaped my eye, much to the initial confusion and subsequent amusement of my co-host on The Real Time Show, Alon Ben Joseph). Alon had assumed I was hamming it up for Moser’s benefit, but I was truly ecstatic. There, in my hands, was a watch that did everything right. It’s more obvious now than it was seven months ago, but that watch was ahead of its time in terms of what it offered the consumer: it was a smaller, more wearable version of a design classic; everything had been refined with the customer in mind; the excellent movement had been paired with a dial that added value to the line; and — a crucial although unromantic point — the price was held at a “reasonable” level.

H. Moser & Cie Streamliner EnamelH. Moser & Cie Streamliner Enamel - Credit H. Moser & Cie

Tangible value. That’s what we as watch buyers seem to desire more than anything else during the industry’s troubling downturn. During Watches & Wonders 2024, we sought out the brands offering just that. Those attending the fair that did, stood out. Many more who stayed away from the madness of Geneva, however, offer even more. More often than not, that value can be found in the dial.

There are several brands doing exciting things with dial finishes that you might expect to find only in the upper echelons of horology. While the movements employed by these dial specialists I’m going to introduce below are pretty standard, they not only help keep the costs down, but they also make aftersales manageable for these small brands. Having an off-the-shelf tractor calibre is exactly the decision brands intending to blow the budget on incredible artisanship should make. It reduces servicing concerns and allows them to focus on doing what they do best.

The best enamel dials under 5K

anOrdain Model 1 fumé enamel dial - Credit anOrdain

 
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£48.00
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ZULUDIVER Maverick (MK II) Sailcloth Waterproof Watch Strap - Black / Orange
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ZULUDIVER Maverick (MK II) Sailcloth Waterproof Watch Strap - Black / Blue
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ZULUDIVER Maverick (MK II) Sailcloth Waterproof Watch Strap - Black / Grey
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The first (but not last) name in enamel dials under £5,000 is anOrdain. Glasgow’s finest has established a reputation for incredible colours, typography, and scarcity. The last of those traits is the undesirable side effect of being thoroughly awesome. Currently, anOrdain’s waiting list is chockablock until 2027 (possibly 2028 by the time this article goes live). To reserve a spot in the queue, you simply have to pay a £300 reservation fee. When your turn rolls around, you can choose any model from the current collection (whatever it may be at that time). Bear in mind, that some colours are discontinued from time to time due to difficulty in sourcing specific shades of vitreous enamel, or because certain colours yield an inordinately high failure rate.

Another brand that deserves not just a mention but to have its name shouted from the rooftops of its native Copenhagen is Vitreum. Following a similar path to anOrdain, is this very small, very charming, very desirable outfit from Denmark. Hand-engraved dials are enlivened by thin layers of opaque vitreous enamel in eye-popping shades. A proprietary typeface nods to the nation’s history and sets these apart from the regular fare. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but that’s no big deal for Vitreum, as the brand currently only makes small batch series.

Good news: if you get your hands on one, you’ll own something rare. Bad news: good luck getting your hands on one! Given anOrdain’s waiting list, the accomplished finishing of these watches, and a quite frankly ridiculous price point (under €2,500) considering the manual work involved, these beauties fly off the shelves almost as soon as they’ve hit them.

If enamel isn’t your thing, perhaps you fancy a bit of car paint?

Arcanaut Fordite Angel's LandingArcanaut Fordite Angel's Landing - Credit Arcanaut

What is it about Danish brands and good dials? There must be something in the water. Or, if you believe my colleagues at Arcanaut, there’s something in the Gammel Dansk (I believe it’s alcohol but haven’t conducted any exhaustive studies to that end).

Although I’m involved with the brand (so you can take this with a pinch of salt), it would be crazy to write a list of the best dial makers in the sub-5K bracket and not mention the utter madness designed by Anders Brandt and realised by James “Black Badger” Thompson for their pan-Scandinavian outfit. Hand-finished dials made from materials such as Fordite (over-sprayed car paint), crushed Swedish slate, powdered Mussel shells, pure titanium dioxide, and resin-filed and lume-backed aerospace-grade aluminium foam abound (and there is yet more madness to come).

Stamped (or should that be stomped?) dials from the industry’s leading outdoorsmen

Jan Mayen WatchJan Mayen Watch - Credit Straum

 
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£48.00
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ZULUDIVER Seacroft Waffle FKM Rubber Dive Watch Strap (MkII) - Black
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ZULUDIVER Seacroft Waffle FKM Rubber Dive Watch Strap (MkII) - Grey - Brushed Buckle
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Since Straum’s foundation in 2020, the brand’s watches, designed for and inspired by Norway’s harsh but beautiful landscape, have repeatedly hit the mark. Thus far, two model lines (the Opphav and the Jan Mayen collection) have hit the shelves, with the latter further stoking the enthusiasm generated by the former. 

The Jan Mayen collection saw the brand experiment with even more intricate dial patterns in its classic colours of green, blue, black, and white, but with the addition of a now-sold-out limited edition red model inspired by Beerenberg Volcano (which looms above the isolated island of Jan Mayen), and the soon-to-be-available Glacial Rift dial (which has a very unusual inverted fade, darkening towards the centre and recalling the icy chasms the intrepid expedition team had to navigate as they headed towards Beerenberg’s summit). 

Dial stamping is a technique that sees a metal blank (normally brass) imprinted with a pattern via a hydraulic or heavyweight press that slams an engraved die into the flat surface of the dial blank with great force. This is a great way to apply a complex finish to a large number of dials quickly, however, it is neither as cheap nor as easy as it sounds. The quality of the tool head used to apply the decoration is paramount and the sharpness of its edges must be routinely inspected to avoid a significant drop off in quality towards the end of a production run. 

Not all tool heads are created equal. The precise machining of the pattern is essential for a good finish, and the subsequent colouration process, which, in Straum’s case, sees the dials galvanically coated in their chosen shades, has a huge effect on the aesthetic impact these dials can impart. This is where Straum has really excelled. The textures, which are themselves lifted from nature, are incredible, but the colours — especially the blue and the upcoming Glacial Fissure dial — set these watches, which retail for €1,600 excluding taxes, apart from the competition.

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Rob Nudds

About the Author: Rob Nudds

Rob started working in the watch industry for the Signet Group, aged 17. Following university, he undertook the WOSTEP course at the British School of Watchmaking, developing a keen interest in watchmaking theory. After graduating, he worked primarily for Omega and Bremont before leaving the bench in 2015 to become Head of Sales for NOMOS Glashütte in the UK. After three years of managing an international retail network that grew to encompass 17 countries, he began writing full-time.

Since then, he has written for aBlogtoWatch, Fratello, Time & Tide, Grail Watch, SJX, Get Bezel, Borro Blog, Jomashop, Bob's Watches, Skolorr, Oracle Time, and Revolution USA.

He currently co-hosts The Real Time Show Podcast (www.therealtime.show) with his friend and long-time collaborator, Alon Ben Joseph of Ace Jewelers, Amsterdam, as well as working with several brands as a consultant in the fields of brand building, product development, global retail strategy, and communications. Follow him on Instagram @robnudds.

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