Ulysse Nardin Enamel
The use of the best elements in the watchmaking craft is at the core of the Ulysse Nardin philosophy. In fact, at the time of the company’s revival, Ulysse Nardin did not limit itself to perpetuating its great mechanical achievements. It had the parallel aim of restoring the art of enamelling, a refined decorative technique which lends a very unique appearance to the dials. In this way, Ulysse Nardin has contributed to the revival of an art that was almost lost.
As a decorative process, enamel dates back to Gallo-Roman times. Enamel is a glass comprising silica, red lead and potash. In the glazing process, stabilizing elements, (lime or magnesium) are combined with the main ingredient silica, to which fluxes (potassium, sodium) are added to lower the melting point.
Different colours are obtained from different metallic oxides. Yellow, green and brown are extracted from iron; black and violet from manganese; blue, green and red from copper. The variety of colours and tones (opaque, transparent or translucent) is derived from the proportions in which the above mentioned elements are mixed in order to get amalgams, of which the composition is often a secret.
Through the ages this technique has been well used in watchmaking, primarily for the high-end watches, adding to their prestige. Nevertheless, since the fifties, enamel on watches has nearly sunk into oblivion due to the production difficulties encountered. The art was therefore only carried out by a restricted circle of highly skilled craftsmen.
Today, the special blue of the San Marco chronometers, the limited editions of the famous boat series and sea battles, the historical places and the map of the world adorning the Tellurium are dials which represent Ulysse Nardin’s unique signature.
The beauty of these dials is by no means a chance happening. These dials required long research and an absolute mastery of the enamelling technique.
Enamelling does not spring from some simple universal rule. Its mastery depends on a personal sensitivity and daily practice going beyond all frontiers of empiricism. It is an art, rather than a science.
As with its spirit in achieving technical excellence, Ulysse Nardin has chosen the hardest path for its decorative art as well. Achieving extraordinary results demands the use and harmonization of various techniques, such as cloisonné, which is the quintessence of the art of enamelling. The cloisonné technique is one of the most refined and complicated methods in the enamelling art.
It consists of the elaboration of a drawing and the matching of colours on each segments. Every single segment must be divided from the others by gold wires that will enclose the liquid filled with powdered enamel. Considering the small size, this is a really difficult task and requires great meticulousness, patience and care.
It is up to the artist’s fingers to delineate the different colour segments with a gold wire with a thickness of only 0.07 millimeter, which must be positioned and glued on the dial surface with great accuracy and talent to obtain a wonderful and unique design. This is a work of art performed on a surface only two centimeters in diameter!
For each individual dial pertaining to a limited edition, more than fifty preliminary operations are necessary, 12-24 kiln steps and at least fifty working hours by the experienced enameller. At the end of this tortuous process, which will have witnessed a sizable number of rejects, each enamel dial of a Ulysse Nardin watch becomes a legitimate source of company pride.