From its technical innovation and movement reliability to the highest finishing and beauty of its timepieces, the world’s oldest watch company, Blancpain, has been known in the watch community for many things. This finishing and decorative technique has been passed down through generations.
The expert craftsmen at Blancpain use stones, files, burnishers, buffs, and emery paper to perform these hand-crafted Métiers d’Art timepieces. Each one-of-a-kind watch is created in ‘La Ferme’, the affectionate nickname given to a restored historical farm in Le Brassus.
Today, we take you through the different and rare watchmaking techniques Blancpain uses for its exclusive Métiers d’Art timepieces.
Despite its relatively simple and standard nomenclature, Blancpain’s fine hand engraving is one of watchmaking’s most time-honoured decorative techniques. Blancpain’s master engravers are skilled in decorating dials, movement bridges, winding rotors, case backs, and automata, with an extensive range of motifs.
The process begins with a hand-drawn sketch that offers a detailed view of the proposed design. Once finalised, the engravers get to work by delicately carving the metallic surface of the different parts of the watch with the help of tools called burins. With this ancient Roman tool, the master engravers at Blancpain breathe life via different textures, lines, and patterns, including human figures, animals, flora, outdoor scenes, and cityscapes, among others.
This method originated in China, and then spread to ancient Damascus, Persia, India, and Spain. The artisans at Blancpain hold the mantle of being the first artists to bring this ancient decorative technique to the world of fine watchmaking.
What does it mean? This technique involves the decoration of a surface that is first carved with the design to form troughs. Once completed, threads of soft metal (usually gold or silver) are hammered into these troughs. At the same time, the top surface is polished flat. The practice of this technique at Blancpain has led to the production of beautiful dials.
As the name suggests, this traditional method of craftsmanship first came into existence in Japan. The art form was favoured by great silversmiths who used this technique to decorate the guards of samurai warriors’ katana. The Shakudō method transforms the colours of gold/copper alloy from its natural yellow/orange hue to a subtle black/grey tone.
This is achieved by submerging the disc used for the watch dial into a warm chemical bath composed of copper acetate called rokushō. This dipping process is repeated multiple times until the desired result has been achieved.
Enamelling is one of the most common and oldest techniques used in the watch industry. It is notably praised for its magnificent stability, allowing the wide range of colours and shades to remain indefinitely radiant. Grand Feu is the most commonly practised at Blancpain from the many enamelling techniques available. The process involves applying multiple successive layers of enamel on a solid gold base. One needs to ensure that both sides of the dial undergo this process to avoid distortion. Once a layer has been applied, the dial is fired in a kiln heated to approximately 800°C. This process continues until the dial has attained the desired result in terms of colour and texture.
Apart from Grand Feu, Blancpain also uses a technique called champlevé. Champlevé begins with carving out on the dial’s base instead of a completely flat surface. This allows the creation of raised and lowered zones that do not have to deal with the bleeding edges. Miniature enamel painting is also another popular technique used by Blancpain.
Besides an enamel dial, Blancpain also uses porcelain for its watch decorating techniques.Another demanding technique Blancpain masters is cloisonné enamel. Originating from the ancient Near East, this artform involves the application of precious metal wires that are shaped, cut, and polished by hand. They are then soldered onto an enamel base to create unique designs with compartments filled with thin layers of coloured enamel.