In the digital age, mechanical watches are an anachronism in themselves; they simultaneously display their true values in addition to their high regard for special handcrafts. Small series such as the Artist’s Collection, with its high concentration of lavish handcrafted arts, only add to the awareness.
In Chronoswiss’ own workshop located at Lucerne, these ticking treasures are manufactured based on traditions that are hundreds of years old. More than 60 steps are needed before such a unique timepiece can begin to tick, each of which is extremely demanding.
From beginning to the end of an Artist’s Collection timepiece, only traditional methods and materials are used, handed down by the great-grandfathers of today’s masters of the trade. This is why no two watches are exactly alike.
One of the historical and rare machines used in this process is a rose engine from the year 1924, boasting origins in the Swiss city La Chaux-de-Fonds. Apart from the vintage machinery, filling the positions available in this workshop also presents a huge challenge: the artisans able to perform such traditional processes are as rare as the required machinery. Starting in summer 2014, visitors will have the opportunity to experience the sophisticated handcrafts and will be able to look over the watchmakers’ shoulder during their work.
The art of guilloché is really the art of creating interlaced geometric figures and patterns in metal. This elaborate technique is based on the royal craft of ornamental turnery, prevalent in Europe from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries among the aristocracy. Clever watchmakers invented very complex machines for guilloché, operated only with raw manpower, to adorn dials and cases.
The complicated procedure, nowadays only mastered by few, brings with it an amazing variety of shapes and expressions. Applying new, yet classic guilloché patterns to cases, dials, components and rotors requires the artists to master a hand-operated rose engine, just like the one in Chronoswiss’ workshop.
Using only his or her hands, the guilloché artisan moves the dial against the graver tool, which applies the cut from the outside to the inside, engraving the patterns about a tenth of a millimeter into the dial. The individual lines are only about two-tenths of a millimeter, making for very filigreed embellishment.
The miniscule irregularities that come with work done by hand help the connoisseur identify the work of this traditional craft. Dials with the perfect lines of an absolutely even structure hint at an automated procedure. This refinement is already a special adornment for a watch, but Chronoswiss goes a step further with the Artist’s Collection: the typical guilloché wave pattern is given depth and three-dimensionality by a special enamel coating.
High-fire enameling sees pulverized glass melted onto metal under high temperatures. The addition of metal oxides allows the creation of colored enamel, too. Thousands of years old, even the Egyptians practiced and appreciated this craft. Since the invention of the pocket watch, it was used for dials but has since been replaced by the less complicated and more efficient process of lacquering as genuine enameled dials were too delicate due to their glass content. Today they justifiably count as treasured rarities.
The process of high-fire enameling is very time consuming as seven firings are required to achieve a perfect color result. Each layer is less than one-tenth of a millimeter in height. Before the enamel powder is applied, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned to achieve a perfectly clear and translucent color.
Up to twelve cleanings are required to remove all impurities. Only then can the enameller mix it with water and carefully apply it to the dial. But even then he or she must be extremely careful to keep the enamel level when being fired. The scrap rate for this process is extremely high as any mistake is irreversible.
Even so, the models of the Artist’s Collection still have the hardest test in front of them: when all the layers have been fired and the dial has been polished, it returns to the rose engine for another round of guilloché.
Here, the true mastery of the craft comes to the fore as the final enamel is cut: the special Breguet threading, an intricate guilloché border pattern that is the crowning glory topping off this special series. The radiance and beauty of the colors as well as the unmistakable gloss of true enamel make the long process worthwhile.
The art of skeletonizing arrived in about the eighteenth century as a special horological theme. It was soon forgotten and only resurfaced in the 1930s when it experienced another heyday. This art can be described as the artistic reduction of the movement to its bare minimum: the “skeleton.”
To start with, the watchmaker marks the planned outline with a needle. After some fine drilling, superfluous material is removed with a saw. Furthermore, the edges are beveled at 45 degrees and some manual engraving and guilloché is applied to the surfaces. Not only the precisely worked angles but also the congruence of many components on top of each other testifies to the mastery of the craft: to enable an unimpeded view, these parts are aligned to cover the same areas.
The historic hand-wound movements of the Artist’s Collection originate in the 1970s and are elaborately decorated after being skeletonized: the artist goes to work using a goldsmith’s saw, a file and much dedication. Bridges and plates are decorated with guilloché and screws are thermally blued.
The careful embellishment inside the timepiece is revealed by Chronoswiss’ classic transparent case back. It’s hard to tell whether the view is more beautiful from the front or the back, but one thing is for sure: no matter which side you view the models of the Artist’s Collection from, you will always see impressive art made exclusively by hand.