In Watches, Enamel Comes Back Into Style

The cost of watches with enamel work is often high, at least in part because of the exacting work that goes into making them. It takes at least five hours to create a simple enamel dial in a single color, according to Claude-Eric Jan, director of Donzé Cadrans, a dial specialty company. More elaborate pieces that incorporate techniques like cloisonné, in which wires are strategically placed to create complex designs, can take as long as 60 hours.

Throughout the enameling process, dials coated with strongly hued pigments are repeatedly baked in an oven set to a temperature of more than 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit, to intensify the color and deepen the surface appearance.

Donzé Cadrans — in Le Locle, Switzerland, about a two-hour drive from Geneva — is one of just a handful of companies that specialize in traditional watch enameling. (“Cadrans” is the French word for dials; the company was founded in 1972 by Francis Donzé and purchased by Ulysse Nardin in 2011.) About 60 percent of its clients are brands owned by its parent company, the luxury giant Kering; it also makes dials for companies like Patek Philippe.


A worker places the heated enamel dials onto a surface for cooling.

Clara Tuma for The New York Times

Another enameler, Anita Porchet, based in nearby Corcelles-le-Jorat, Switzerland, creates dials for brands like Piaget and Hermès. She frequently uses techniques like champlevé, which adds engraving patterns to the process. Demand for the work is constant; as she said, “I’m 150 percent busy all the time.”

With their visible craftsmanship and scarce supply, watches with enamel details appeal to connoisseurs. “You target a collector for sure — someone who appreciates the quality,” said Franck Touzeau,…

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