May 2, 2020
by Ariel Adams
Canada-based Ematelier brings the beauty and technique of artistic enamel dials at reasonable price points today. When I last spoke about Ematelier, I was reviewing one of its enamel-painted limited-edition women’s watches. Today, I’ll discuss a men’s product, but one that Ematelier can’t exactly sell as a limited edition, as it is a special dial that can be fitted aftermarket to a modern Rolex Datejust 41 watch. Here are a few of the dials Ematelier created, and each is inspired by an original cloisonne enamel dial produced for Rolex watches during the 1940s to the 1960s. Specifically, these particular re-created dials celebrate the Rolex “Map of the Americas” reference 6085, Neptune reference 8382, Dragon reference 8651, Caravelle reference 6100, and American Eagle of reference 6085.
Cloisonne enamel is a special enamel technique whereby the artisan uses thin strips of metal (usually gold, and in this watch the wire is just 0.07mm-thick) to create shapes in the enamel material, as well as to separate colors. Cloisonne enamel is one of the most important types from an artistic standpoint, as it can yield some of the most beautiful results — and the technique itself is arduous and time-consuming. On top of that, enameling requires constant baking and treating the dial throughout the creation process. That makes the rejection rate very high and cloisonne enamel dials even more difficult to create. There are very few operations in the world that can do this work, and Ematelier is one of them.
The original cloisonne Rolex dials were all produced by outside specialists in and around Geneva for Rolex. Only a few hundred cloisonne enamel-dial Rolex watches were ever made, and by comparison with today’s tastes, the watches are pretty small. Ematelier wanted to re-create, in slightly larger form, those original designs and so began by carefully re-creating the dials themselves. He chose them to fit the Datejust 41 for a few reasons, one being the depth of the dial. Given that enamel dials are thicker than standard dials, to make the dial fit, the date complication is removed from the Rolex movement in order to make space for the dial. I don’t think anyone will miss the date when presented with a dial such as this.
The base dial itself is 18k gold with applied hour markers. The dials here do not have any Rolex logos on them, as doing so gets into muddy waters when it comes to intellectual property laws. Though Ematelier can actually use authentic Rolex crown logos (sourced from elsewhere) on the dials, if so inclined. What’s interesting is that these aftermarket modified Rolex watches are fully reversible, meaning that a watchmaker can remove the enamel dial and then replace the original Rolex dial while reassembling parts of the movement. Very few other aftermarket processes on a watch can be swapped back to the original.
Legally speaking, these watches are kosher because no one is reproducing the Rolex trademarks. Otherwise, aftermarket work such as this is totally legitimate. Customers who order bespoke work like this from Ematelier could easily choose to have something else entirely pad-printed on the dial, such as their own logo or name. To explain the law better, Ematelier could not legally reproduce the Rolex logo and then market those products, and an average person might confuse those for being something that Rolex sold itself. Consumers should note that not all aftermarket Rolex watches out there abide by international laws, so, in a sense, this is an area where caveat emptor is still a ruling principle. Having seen multiple Ematelier products now, I can say that when it comes to their work and the enamel dials they make, the end product is really without equal (especially at these price points).
Fans of rare or rarefied vintage watches can really enjoy artistic re-creations such as these Rolex cloisonne enamel dial homages by Ematelier. For someone who wants to “spruce up” their Datejust 41 or who wants to get a new one and then immediately make it unique have some really interesting creative opportunities considering there is an enamel dial specialist that isn’t cheap, but who won’t charge what a Geneva-based watch brand would today.
On the wrist, I find these beautiful but would recommend that if you want to go with this gold dial base, then opt for a Datejust 41 with matching gold hands. You can see my full aBlogtoWatch Rolex Datejust 41 watch review here. Artistic dials are something I love because I’ve always found that watch faces are a great opportunity to display a painting. Some watches take that literally, and no matter what type of art you like, I promise there is a watch dial out there for you. You don’t need to have an affinity for Rolex or the particular vintage cloisonne enamel dials that inspired this modern re-creation to enjoy the artistic beauty of what cloisonne enamel can offer.
Ematelier has developed special techniques for creating these dials that no one else does. For example, these particular cloisonne dials have a mirror polish applied to them after they are done. This gives the dials a special smooth and “prefect” quality that the original dials do not. While replicating a particular dial design of the past can be thrilling, I think the real opportunity with a company like Ematelier is to approach them having no idea what you want, and through a discussion with their proprietor, Alex Landa, determining what your mind desires (and your budget can afford). Retail price for these Ematelier homages to original Rolex cloisonne enamel dials (including the cost of a new at retail all-steel Datejust 41 timepiece itself) would be between $22,000 – $28,000 USD depending on the specific dial. Learn more at the Ematelier website here. Learn more about Rolex at its website here.