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A Look Inside Glashütte Original’s SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

I have visited several dozens of watch manufactures — a term that is commonly accepted as referring to a watch movement manufacture. And yet, it is the dial and hand manufactures that I find most important and most interesting, followed by the case-makers and movement production facilities. It is distinctly rare for a luxury watchmaker to share in-depth details on the production of dials, and so, combined with my first-hand experience of the Glashütte Original dial manufacture in Pforzheim, I was excited to dig into the 13-pages of informational material that the Saxon brand shared about the making of its SeaQ dive watch dials.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Glashütte Original has a fully integrated movement manufacture in the town of — you guessed it — Glashütte. As Germanly perfect and impressive as that was, with its in-house tool-making, individually heat-blued screws, and so on, its very own dial manufacture in the “Golden City” of Pforzheim was the one that really set my pants on fire. Set firmly in this historic jewelry-making town is a manufacture completely and exclusively dedicated to the production of Zifferblätter, which means that from the thin strips of metals all the way to the beautifully finished, appliqué-laiden dials, they know and they do all when it comes to dial-making.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Before we get to the SeaQ dials, I’ll clarify something. How can dial production be, for me at least, more exciting than movement manufacturing? For a start, very few in-house movement manufactures are at a point in their development where they have the experience and expertise to really get creative and enable their respective brand to go loco on movement designs, new finishing techniques, etc. Yet fewer produce more than just bridges: Wheels and pinions are often out of the question, not to mention specially machined and hand-finished components, blued screws and other stuff horological dreams are made of. Many movement manufactures are extremely limited in their capabilities.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

The pad used for printing the numerals on the Glashütte Original SeaQ dial.

By contrast, a dial manufacture has no other option but to do e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. When visiting the Pforzheim manufacture, I was told there can be up to 75 steps to make up the production process of one single dial. That includes stamping, welding, cutting, brushing, polishing, coating, painting, and the implementation of whatever new production method that is required to create a new moon phase disc, or to faithfully recreate a modernized version of a dial from the 1960s. All this, each and every step, is expected to be performed with mind-bending minute tolerances, with virtually zero tolerance for blemishes.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A mistake at any of those up-to-75 stages renders the production piece useless, necessitating the discarding of the piece, binning all the working hours that have gone into it up to that stage. Not surprisingly, a handmade watch dial is a remarkably refined and equally expensive component in any luxury watch. Facts, like how you’ll be looking at it more than any other part of your watch (except for the hands), and the consequent importance attached to it, are all self-explanatory, really.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Since they took their trademark form in the early 1950s — with a rotating timing bezel, luminescent time display and running seconds indication — true divers’ watches have not only complied with their ISO 6425 requirements but have also tried their best to create their own unique aesthetics. Such was the case with the Spezimatic Type RP TS 200, a diver’s watch developed specifically for sports and combat divers in 1969 by the company. This watch, pictured below, serves as the inspiration for the recently introduced SeaQ line of timepieces.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Because a faithful recreation with the 39.50mm SeaQ, and a modernized version with the 43.20mm SeaQ Panorama Date, was Glashütte Original’s goal, the dial manufacture had to create two very different dials, in two color variations (blue and black) of each. One with printed numerals and a decidedly old-school vibe over a 30.50mm-diameter dial, and another with hand applied indices and a more contemporary look over a 33.1mm dial that incorporates the larger aperture for the brand’s large Panorama Date indication.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Every dial starts out as a blank, punched from a strip of brass. The process adds a total of four catch holes which will allow the blank to sit securely and precisely where it should as it undergoes subsequent processes. A bit later the date window gets its cutout, yet later enhanced by adding a decorative, beveled edge. Then it’s time for the central hole for the hand pinions to come through, along with some infinitesimal holes that will accommodate the tiny feet of the indices on the SeaQ Panorama Date — two per index. At last, the dial gets punched from the blank, giving it its final diameter, just as you see it above.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Time comes for surface treatments, a whole new dimension in know-how and extreme care. A grinding and polishing machine and a special emulsion liquid are used to grind the dials before polishing them to a high gloss finish. Now that a nice, perfectly even surface is achieved, the subtle sunray finish that will glisten through the color of the dial is applied. The dial turns on a rotating platform and is finished by a brush rotating on a vertical axis. I’m still baffled by just how even a surface can be created using such a seemingly basic method.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

I especially like this stage of wet, painted dials. A wet dial is not something you’d ever want to see on your watch — dive watch or otherwise — so, to see this delicate object go through a phase like this I found quite unnerving and entertaining at the same time. The base color of a SeaQ dial is attained through galvanization, a process that can create stunning colors… or their very opposite. Blue is especially tricky to get consistently right, as literally seconds over or under the desired time in the galvanic bath will result in a different hue of blue.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Rinsed clean and dried, the dials are all set for the application of numerals, indices, logo, lettering, and other details. For the throwback version of the SeaQ (with the date at 3 o’clock), first the numerals and indices are applied in a light primer color. Contrary to what some may believe, not all prints are applied at the same time. Then, the printing pad (also called a tampon) picks up the ink from an etched plate (also known as a cliché) that holds just the right amount of paint in just the right places. The pad is pressed against the dial to transfer the paint. Needless to say, the amount and location of the pressure of the pad, and the paint it carries, are the key elements. The same happens with the white texts and details. Then, the numerals and indices are filled in by hand with Super-LumiNova — having never been able to stay within the lines on much larger scales, my trying this process has led to hilarious consequences.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

Like tiny cufflinks or earrings, the applied numerals of the SeaQ Panorama Date truly look like tiny pieces of jewelry. While the logo, other texts and the minute ring are pad-printed on this model, all other indices and large Arabic numerals are applied by hand, all fourteen of them. The appliqués feature green Super-LumiNova paint on the black dial versions and white Super-LumiNova paint when used over the blue dials. The indices, as mentioned above, are secured not by glue but by two tiny feet that are then welded to the back of the dial, with all excess material removed to maintain its flush surface, so that it rests flat against the movement underneath.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

As one would expect, quality-control procedures are in place throughout the processes, including at the very end of the dial production. Once a dial is cleaned and checked thoroughly, it gets packed away safely and is transferred from Pforzheim to Glashütte Original’s main manufactory building for final assembly.

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

A Look Inside Glashütte Original's SeaQ Dive Watch Dial Production Inside the Manufacture

To go from a meters long, thin, uninspiring strip of brass to something that serves as the backbone of the identity of a watch — that’s what makes dial production so special. Add to that the fact that every step along the way is carried out in-house, within the same building, by the same one group of technicians and craftspeople, and you start to appreciate how movement making should not be the be-all and end-all of “in-house” production when it comes to luxury watchmaking. Learn more at glashuette-original.com.

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  • ???

    Thanks for your report. I would agree dials production is usually overlooked and deserves more attention. The next topic should be the hands.

    • David Bredan

      I’d love to visit a hands manufacture.

  • Steve Edwards

    I loved that article well done david

    • David Bredan

      Thank you Steve

  • Pete L

    Great article.

    • David Bredan

      Thank you

  • Tony Newton

    Excellent article, very interesting to see what goes on. More like this, please!

    • David Bredan

      Thank you, more coming!

  • PR

    GO especially puts a lot of effort into dials. While personally I didn’t like either seaq models articles like this help explain how much effort goes into often overlooked finer details and applied numerals.

    Ironically though the shiny applied numerals were one of the main reasons I didn’t like the larger model. It didn’t gel with the aesthetic at all.

    • David Bredan

      The way I look at precious applied indices in a go-anywhere dive watch is that they are old-school pieces of watchmaking encapsulated, as though they were on display.

  • SuperStrapper

    I also love seeing this type of process, and that was a fun read (and with the usual lovely photography).
    Shame how underwelming this watch was when i tried it one. This just isn’t the type of watch I want from GO.

    • Mark B

      That is a shame. I’ve really taken a liking to it from photographs.

    • Joe

      Out of curiosity, which one did you try?
      I’ve yet to try them.
      I have a preference for the larger model because the panoramic date is “curious” for a diver…and makes it stand out from the crowd.

      • SuperStrapper

        Both. Horologio in the mall in the Palazzo had a nice selection including both diver iterations. The SeaQ was probably more comfortable but both were very nice in the wrist. Like you, i far preferred the ‘curiosity’ of a grande date diver, but it’s still just not the kind of watch i want to buy from GO. Also tried on a few senators and panoramas, they tugged harder at the heartstrings. I don’t think I took any wrist shots, which is odd. I did take this horrible shot but i have no idea why or why i kept it.

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f0ec5aafd243e1c3f478cbaf9dec53d608e6fe2f3fd5c45a7489fefa119b7c11.jpg

        • Joe

          That’s a funny thing.
          I used to take wrist shots when I was trying on a watch.
          These days if I go to try on a watch there are so many aspects I’m looking at, how it sits on the wrist, thickness, whether the bracelet might pull on hairs…and then the watch itself.

          Somehow, I find wrist shots distract me from these very important objectives and so I find myself almost “forgetting” to take them.
          I’m already there because I like how it looks (or sometimes its specs) so when I’m trying on the watch, it’s more about how it feels along with imagining myself wearing it with a work-shirt, t-shirt, etc.

  • There’s something very satisfying about thick & polished applied markers and numerals, especially when filled with lume evenly. They provide so much depth to the dial. I’d rather have applied markers than even the best printed dial.

    • David Bredan

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s like small pieces of jewelry (in a good way) on the dial.

    • PR

      Absolutely agree.

  • cluedog12

    Does it mean I’m reading too many watch blogs if I start to see “features” as fun junkets that I wish I could attend myself?

    Anyways, great feature writing David, I enjoyed reading your account of the process.

    I’ve seen these dial features before from Glashutte and I’ve always enjoyed them, particularly when the features bring attention to some of the esoteric savoire faire like the hand silver plating or the bevelling of the frameless date window. frameless date window bevelling.

    Given all the care taken in producing dials of exceptional quality, I wish Glashutte had slavishly kept the dial proportions of the original Spezimatic Type RP TS 200 for the 39.5 mm SeaQ. I don’t know if the SeaQ and Spezimatic movements have the same diameter, but it’s apparent the SeaQ date window is slightly off plane from the Arabics, compared to the original dial that inspired it.

    • David Bredan

      Wow, you do have a good eye for detail. I usually spot stuff like this, but this one escaped me. It’s totally a taste thing, but you’re right, on the 1969 model the date window is indeed closer to the edge of the dial, eating up the 3 o’clock rectangle marker. I’m quite sure the movement is not the same diameter (it’s GO’s in-house movement inside).

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Somewhere in some other universe I’m a Master watch maker instead of just a waste of space.

    • Joe

      Yes!

      …and we talk about your despicably high-priced abominations like the RW 001 and RW 006 on forums (An Ode to Watch / AOTW).
      Or perhaps you tried to sell us a story about your troubled aircraft landing in the boonies where a friendly tribe came to help you out…and you called the company…Raymont.

  • Wow! What a photos!

  • Howie Boyd

    Comparing the last two pictures the model on a black strap seems to have hands that are green and mismatch the beige of the numerals. I’ve seen this on other photos of the watch on the web. Any explanation?

    • David Bredan

      Yes, that’s the SeaQ 1969 limited edition, with the green lumed hands. The non-limited SeaQ 39.50mm has beige lume all over.

  • Joe

    Great article!

    Rolex aside, are some companies guarded about some “secret sauce” or are most technologies/techniques open and simply protected by patents?

    • David Bredan

      Great question. Of course there are such guarded secrets when it comes to manufacturing and servicing, even.
      Still, more often than not, the secret sause is human resources. Many of the patents have long ago expired, other processes are common knowledge. The correct assortment of machines in a room less than 1000sqft (100sqm) would allow any manufacture to make its own balance springs, for example. It’s attracting and keeping workforce that knows how to operate those machines and sustain quality is the issue, and less frequently the patents or the machines.

  • David Bredan

    Somewhere in some other universe we all are master watchmakers.

  • David Bredan

    Lange is amazing in its own ways but in this instance it precisely does *not* use the exact same processes — Lange doesn’t have its own dial manufacture and does not make any of its own dials.

  • Joe

    I don’t think it will be too long before some manufactures offer more customisation options via online portals.

    eg If you go to a bricks-and-mortar shop, you can try a watch out.
    If you go to the online shop, you can’t try it out but you can pick between having an open/closed case back, strap/bracelet, tang/clasp buckle, etc.

    I think many brands need to start doing much more to attract and retain customers.

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