Parmigiani Fleurier & Quadrance: the art of dial manufacturing
The dial is the face of the watch...and arguably, the most recognizable component, and perhaps even the most important one, at least aestetically.
Quadrance et Habillage was created by the Sandoz Foundation in December 2005 to provide Parmigiani Fleurier the highest quality of dials and expertise for this critical step in high horology. The factory is situated in the mountains of the Swiss Jura, in the same building as LAB in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Who makes dials?
In fact, very few companies dispose of this unique savoir-faire, because dials manufacturing is very specialized. What seems like a simple industrial production is actually very complicated. It is the confluence of aesthetics and technique between designers and engineers, it requires special machines and highly qualified employees. Most haute horology manufactures do not make their own dials, preferring to design them and have them made by specialists. Quadrance is able to produce the highest quality dials used in any Parmigiani Fleurier watches, and also supply various external clients requesting their expertise.
What is involved in the manufacture of a dial
Dial design is an integral part of any watches and brand identity. As design drawings are submitted to Quadrance from its clients, engineers are in charge of translating these into engineering specifications for manufacturing process. Among of Work and complexity vary depending on design, functions and degree of finishing required. For instance, different subdials levels imply additional steps in manufacturing process. Because certain types of appliques are very delicate, they involve precise and manual work. Dials manufacturing covers a wide range of techniques, going from industrial prints, lacquer and electro-plating treatments to exclusive hand-made guilloche. All those processes have to be mastered by specialists and most of the time; they involve precise manual operations because the most advanced machine cannot replace an expert eye and its hand.
Hands and appliques if required remain the only pieces that the manufacture is not making itself. They are provided by a local firm specialized in this area.
Almost all dials are concerned with a type of printing. Watchmaker’s logos, “Swiss Made” appellation, identifying characters, and even hour markers for common watches. We take an example of the stylized hour markers of 12, 3 and 9 on the dial.
The design is engraved onto brass plate with great precision. The printing method is similar to the press method of intaglio, where ink is placed on the plate, and because of the sunken surfaces of the engraving, the ink collects. A quick wipe of the plate rids the non-engraved surface of ink. A silicon ball is then applied on the plate, picking up the ink. This is then transferred to the dial.
Sometimes, due to the thickness of the print required, several imprints are made with fresh ink on the plate. The precision required in the setup of the plate, silicon ball and the dial is very high, so that each subsequent imprint is precisely on the same spot, so that the ink so applied builds up as a layer without making the edges of the characters being printed fuzzy. This is done for each colour needed on the dial.
The precision required is often underestimated. For example, a dial may have a printed second’s marker in the form of a railway track around the dial. The precision for each second mark is very high, as a small amount of error will be easily detected. Behind all those operations, the exerced hand of specialist is ensuring to provide you the best dial quality possible.
Next week, we move into the bowels of the manufacture...the movement people at Vaucher.