The presence of women is evident in every little detail of a DeLaneau watch

In charge of creating the enamel dials at DeLaneau is a team of ladies who undergo a complex artistic process to realise these miniature masterpieces.


Watchmaking is traditionally a man's world. Creating precision instruments tends to attract more males than females, as do most of the engineering industries. But DeLaneau is different. While these timepieces are technically perfect, driven by mechanical calibres made by one of the top movement makers in Switzerland, the presence of women is evident in every detail of a DeLaneau watch. Which is hardly surprising since the company is almost entirely made up of women, who make watches just for women. That in itself sets the house apart, as does the emphasis on the decoration of each watch.

In charge of creating the beautiful enamel dials is a team of ladies who spend their days peering through microscopes as they create their miniature masterpieces. Like any painting, work starts with research and sketching, and the enamellers' sketch books are testament to their drafting skills, learnt from their days as Fine Art students.

Under the guidance of Creative Director Brigitte Morina, the DeLaneau women work with paint brushes topped with a mere few strands of mink hair. Each enameller mixes their own enamel paint, either from a ready-ground powder or by creating their own powder by grinding chunks of coloured glass in a marble pestle and mortar.

Using a doll-sized palette knife, the powder is then mixed with oil on a slice of agate, chosen for its smoothness and lack of porosity. The artist then dips the brush in the paint and applies the enamel to the reduced canvas.

One watch dial alone can have as many as 20 firings to melt the enamel powder to create the glossy, rich colours we associate with this media. And each visit to the oven at temperatures of over 800ºC carries the risk of burning or warping, hence the technique's name: Grand Feu.

My French is limited but I clearly understood the anxiety of the firing phase when Beatrice and Florence, two of DeLaneau's enamellers, recounted the firing process. Once the painting is complete, the surface is filed down to produce an even finish and fired once more.

The team at DeLaneau are masters of many enamel techniques. Amongst them is plique-à -jour, which creates little windows of coloured glass, or grisaille, which layers white porcelain powder over a black background. Paillonné refers to gold leaf covered with a layer of translucent enamel, while cloisonée enamelling delineates the areas of colour using little gold dividers. One of my favourite effects is seen in the Rondo Translucent range. Grand Feu enamel is applied over an intricate engraved pattern, the result of which is a deep shimmering of glassy colour. All these techniques are widely employed by the DeLaneau team and often skilfully combined in one watch dial.

Many of the dials are then set with precious stones. Florence explained to me how sometimes the dials can be damaged by the pressure applied by the gem-setter. So the work of the enamel artist is not complete until the dial is safely housed in its watch case and a glass firmly in place over it.

Even the colours of the watch straps are carefully considered to match the colours on the dial. Much as you would choose the colour of your shoes to go with an outfit, Beatrice Morina pores over swatch samples of suede and leather to find the perfect combination. The leather comes from the same source as that used by luxury shoemakers such as Ferragamo, which explains the unusual and striking hues of each strap.

But the end result is so unique and beautiful that the ladies of DeLaneau are willing to undertake all the risk and stress it implies. So while men may be better suited to the engineering side of watchmaking, it takes the temperament of a woman to embark on a project that requires artistic sensitivity, skill, patience and calm in the face of adversity to produce these unique works of art.

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