The guilloche dial: an elegant way to tell the time
If you appreciate fine craftsmanship, you must know about the exquisite decorating technique of guilloche. It’s an art to make guilloche watch dials, which increases a watch’s value in the horology world. Beyond material worth, it’s also the sentimental thought behind paying for work designed or crafted entirely by the watchmaker’s hands. Let’s take a brief look at how watchmakers create a guilloche dial.
But first, what is guilloche?
Guilloche (also known as engine-turning) is when intricate geometric patterns are etched on watch parts, such as dials and cases. This process is an intensively time-consuming art. In the past, the artist engraves lines on the parts using a hand-operated lathe, resulting in a unique, visually striking design. Now, most watchmakers engrave guilloche art on watch dials using machines, producing an even more impressive time display.
The brief history of guilloche
This traditional technique goes back to the 1500s with softer materials like wood and ivory. Using hand guilloche for watch dials started in the 1770s and became popular because of Frenchman Abraham-Louis Breguet. It was a way to distinguish the watchmaker’s pocket watches and saw an immense demand from clients.
This art was so well revered that schools opened to take in apprentices to learn the art of guilloché. Due to war, the schools had to close, and many artisans turned to other means of survival. Unfortunately, this led to the art slowly disappearing.
Fortunately, traditional watchmaking houses revived the art in the 18th century to create a distinct look for their wristwatches. In our modern times, watch collectors that recognise the intrinsic value of such watches have a fond love of guilloche. It not only speaks of the watchmaker’s dedication to creating a remarkable design for the wearer but also recognises the value of taking time to do things well.
How do you make a guilloche dial?
This art requires an artist’s eye for details and meticulous nature. Traditionally, guillocheurs, as they are known, will first plan the designs they want on the dial. Then, they will engrave intricate patterns on the metal.
First, the watchmaker orientates the dial of a watch using a machine. The guillocheur then uses a cutter to apply pressure to the dial. When they vary the pressure, the cutter forms lines outlining specific patterns.
Nowadays, most watchmakers use Computerised Numerical Control (CNC) machines to make guilloche-patterned dials. CNC is faster than hand guilloche and combines the best of both worlds: a human’s touch is delivered precisely using a machine. While the watchmakers still design the lines to be etched as part of the overall watch aesthetic, pre-programmed software controls production equipment with no human intervention.
With such thought and care applied to making a unique timepiece, it’s clear to see why passionate watch lovers invest in guilloche watches. When you buy a watch with a guilloche dial, it’s not just about a watch. The timepiece is a testament to your love for fine art, an elite nod to the traditional watchmaking decorative process and a recognition that all good things take time to craft.
Read more about our guilloche watches at ETIEN Watch Collections.