Enameling had its origin in the Far East nearly five millennia ago. When watchmaking became well-known in Europe in the 1800s, creative craftsmen in Switzerland started using the techniques for their watches and continued to perfect their the technique through the ages.
The enamel applied to the dial or face of an enamel watch is sand combined with a pigment, ground and then kiln-fired to a melting point, after being allowed to cool down and bind in a pattern on a surface, usually of precious metal like copper, gold, or platinum.
A key part of making an enamel dial is adding many layers of colors. Once one layer is cooled and bound then another layer--and another color--is added. This process can take up to ten kiln firings before the dial is done.
The glass in enamel is a mixture of silica and metal oxides. Mixed with pigments, enamel creates vivid, radiant colors with great depth. Number of elements are used to fashion the pigments that give enamels their color: iodine for a blazing red, for example, iron for a creamy blue gray. The pigmented enamels are slowly “painted” onto a dial with a fine quill. The eye-catching depth of an enameled dial is achieved by adding enamel slowly in layers.
The various mixtures of silica and metal oxides give the enamellist very big palette of colors. This art is as rare as fine watchmaking and can only be done by a very skilled craftsman. The results are beautiful and valuable, but the process and the materials used to achieve the result are very difficult to control. Flaws, sometimes very hard to see in the form of cracks, air pockets, off colors can appear at any stage during the long, hard production period of an enameled watch dial. It can take a lifetime to master and can only be taught by the method of trial and error.