In 1972, Master Enameller Francis Donzé founded Donzé Cadrans S.A. It would go on to become world recognized for its superior capabilities as an enamel-dial specialist, particularly in ancient and high horology watch dials. Ten years after its founding, daughter Francine and her husband Michel Vermot joined the family venture as Francis pursued his artisan work on watch dials until his retirement in 1987.
It was around this time when former Ulysse Nardin President, the late Rolf Schnyder began a collaboration with the famed enamel-dial manufacture. With a view to safeguard the art of enamelling, and with a steadfast commitment to strengthening its independence in watchmaking, Ulysse Nardin acquired Donzé Cadrans in 2012. As a member of the Ulysse Nardin group of companies, Donzé Cadrans provides an unparalleled in-house capability. While the dressy Classico collection does a fantastic job of showcasing Donzé Cadrans Grand Feu, in recent years we’ve also seen Ulysse Nardin debut a series avant-garde watches with dials from Donzé Cadrans (eg. the Marine Mega Yacht).
Types of Enamelling at Donzé Cadrans
Enamel is a soft glass composed of silica, red lead and soda. Mixed together with other elements, enamel is capable of creating intense hues with a subtle, magical depth. Elements used to add hue to enamel include iron which produces a grey colour, chromium which creates a green colour and iodine which makes a fiery red colour. When enamel is heated to temperatures of 800-1’200 degrees Celsius, it liquefies and bonds to metal. Enamel is applied to a watch dial using a goose quill.
It must be slowly built up to create the appropriate depth so that its colour attains the correct hue. The problem with enamel is that it is incredibly hard to control. Because repeated firings are necessary between each application of enamel, dials are exposed to a high degree of risk. At any stage they may crack, air or gas bubbles might emerge and leave tiny holes, or the resulting colours might simply not be optimal.
However, the reward for enduring this high stress procedure and coping with the expensive rejection rate it incurs are watch dials that are simply stunning to behold.Furthermore, the intense hue of enamel never fades. Centuries-old museum pieces graced with enamel dials still shine as brilliantly in this millennium as the day they were presented to their original, delighted owners.
Cloisonné is an enamelling technique in which the outline of the dial design is produced either on the dial itself, or on paper. Extremely fine strips of gold wire measuring only 0.07 mm wide (no larger than a human hair) are hand bent and applied to the outline using two pliers. The individual cells that give the image detail, dimension and nuance are also formed by gold wire and placed within the outline. Colours are then picked out for each cell in order to create the cloister effect. Five layers of enamel are applied to the cloisonné dial. This meant that a cloisonné dial has all coloured cells filled in and baked (800-1200 degrees Celsius) in the kiln for a total of five times before it is ready to be polished. These multiple levels of colour create the sense of depth and three dimensions that make the enamel dials come to life.
The “Grand Feu” enamel is a decorative technique used in watchmaking. This is one of the most difficult techniques in watchmaking, however, the end result is highly durable. The master artisan does not paint the motif directly on the watch but applies more oxides on the dial in gold. Then, the enameller moves the dial into fire (800-900° C) several times to allow motif and colours appear gradually. The “Grand Feu” enamel sets unalterable and refined decoration.
Champlevé is an enamelling technique in which cells are carved with a chisel on the metal plate (dial) and filled with vitreous enamel. The piece is then fired until the enamel melts, and when cooled the surface of the object is polished.
The enamel colour is deposited by means of a quill pen or brush on a sheet of metal (gold or silver) previously decorated with an engraving by hand or with a guilloché. This enamelling operation will be repeated several times (minimum 4) each with a passage in the oven at about 820 degrees. When the thickness of enamel is good, the surface is radiused. After a final passage in the oven, the front of the dial is polished to give it its final gloss.