March 17, 2017
by Ariel Adams
Nice watches are undeniably art you can wear. The act of building an attractive body on the skeleton of functionality that is a timepiece is the emotional fabric which holds together our passion for watches. If there were no artistic dimension to these products then a website like aBlogtoWatch would not exist. Much of the time, the artistic value of a watch is less apparent, requiring a skilled inspection of how the elements of the watch fit together and their purpose. Other times, it is more easily appreciated given the application of traditional artistic techniques to the watch itself. With hand-painted dials which act like miniature composition palettes, timepieces like those in the Harmony collection by newer brand Ématelier thoroughly fit in the latter category.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for timepieces that bear hand-painted or hand-engraved elements. Such timepieces are typically exclusively priced in the “very high-end” segment, but that is starting to change. Most of the traditional watchmakers who offer hand-painted or engraved dials, cases, and movements use outside services rather than do it all in-house. The providers of such services are paid well for their work, but the watch makers tend to much more handsomely mark up the price of this art. The result is artistic watches priced for the very few, when in reality much of the time they could be priced for the slightly less elite.
With that in mind, I am happy to discuss the Harmony collection of limited edition watches for women, produced by the Toronto, Canada-based independent watchmaker Ématelier. The brand was started by a watch industry veteran with a dream to produce true items of art, framed by a traditional mechanical watch, at a price that, while not budget, is more fair for the type of value proposition being delivered. I think they are off to a very nice start.
I do from time to time review women’s watches, even though as a man I am clearly not the intended buyer of such products. I think that a lot of beautiful designs and techniques exist in women’s watches that are less or not available at all in men’s watches. With that said, if, as man, you are particularly taken by these lovely floral dials, there is no reason why the 38.8mm-wide case wouldn’t work for your wrist. Though, you might abstain from the optional diamond-set bezel and perhaps not opt for a pink alligator strap.
Enamel painting techniques vary, as there are many forms of the art. Different techniques not only result in different aesthetic outcomes, but also require varying levels of time as well as different skills. Ématelier Harmony dials are relatively straightforward in that they are painted with enamel paint into an enamel base layer. When performed by a skilled hand, the result is an extremely detailed and permanent composition.
Ématelier as a brand launched with a collection of 10 models, each produced as a limited edition of 10 pieces. Each particular dial design was specially commissioned for Ématelier by a well-known local Toronto-based nature artist. The idea, of course, was to focus on flowers, and the emotional value they offer to many people with both their beauty and symbolism.
A small team of miniature enamel painters located both in Canada and Europe are used to hand-paint each dial. Though, it would be incorrect to say that Ématelier simply orders the work from outside suppliers. Each dial consists of three distinct production steps, two of which are done in-house by Ématelier. The first step is the production of the enamel base dial. A piece of metal is double-coated in white enamel and must be carefully baked in order to achieve a consistent and flat surface. This technique is a distinct skill from the painting part of the enamel dial production.
Once the base dials are produced by Ématelier, they are individually sent to the enamel painters, which proceed to carefully hand-paint the dials under a microscope. The process takes many, many hours. During which, the dials are oven-baked many times as the dial painting needs to be done in segments, usually by color and level of detail. I’ve seen a number of miniature painted enamel dials in my time as a watch writer, and I have to say that the work offered by Ématelier is extremely good. And at this price, it is a veritable bargain. With that said, it does require a customer who understands the skill, time, and effort required to produce these dials and that they are not merely printed by some machine.
The final step of the enamel dial production process is again done in-house by Ématelier. This is what is known as the “Geneva Technique” which is essentially a glazing process which acts to add a glossy protective layer over the enamel painting. This layer is also baked, and is extremely dangerous to the dial as it can easily warp, bubble, or deform the painting underneath. For this reason, Ématelier chooses to both produce the base white enamel dials and apply the Geneva Technique glaze in-house.
The particular watch I am writing about is descriptively known as the Ématelier Harmony Lilacs and Bluebird. A rich assortment of purple and blue colors come together in a composition which combines the appeal of purple lilacs, the inviting friendliness of a songbird, and the serene presence of a country landscape. It is a depiction of a fantasy place that probably does exist somewhere, at least in most people’s memories.