If you wanted a clock during the Renaissance, you were getting one with an enamel dial.
You lucky duck. Enamel dials are stunning. Not that you would’ve known from Adam — back then, watchmakers didn’t have the necessary tools to create the discs of raw metal we all associate with watch dials today.
Modern watchmaking has flipped things around: enamel-dialed watches today are rare and expensive rather than the norm. That’s because they are, as we once wrote, “a pain in the ass to make.”
The process of making an enamel dial can take a few forms. “Grand feu,” as some call it, is the most common for an entire enamel dial; it involves baking multiple layers of glass powder atop silver or copper. Cloisonné and champlevé involve melting the enamel inside of a wire frame, or painting it onto the metal, respectively. All versions take a lot of time and effort; in watchmaking, as in much else in life, that translates to a high price for the consumer.
The market bears this cost for a simple reason: enamel dials are uniquely gorgeous. “Nothing else renders color like enamel does,” says Lewis Heath, the founder of anOrdain. “It’s essentially stained glass.”
AnOrdain and a few other brands represent a new turn in enamel: using it in funky, modern designs, and ones that don’t necessarily cost an arm and a leg. Using enamel in such a way bucks the tradition of its use in ultra-high-end luxury watches, and can bring the material to the masses like never before.
Here are some of our favorite watches that use enamel, both on the “affordable” end and the high-end luxury side of things.
Seiko Presage SPB047
Launched in 2016, the Seiko Presage enamel line has expanded in the past few years. Now there are options for three-handers with subdials, a tonneau-shaped case, and even a chronograph—all for less than most any other enaml-dialed watch out there, and made by Seiko’s own enamel expert. Our favorite is the simple, clean SPB047.
Movement: Seiko 6R15 automatic
Enamel Colors: White
AnOrdain Model 1
It took three years of development for anOrdain’s jewelers to get their enamel dials right; paired with the syringe hands and hand-painted markers, the enamel is brilliant in any of the six colors offered. The process is distinct from Swiss and Japanese Grand Feu techniques, says Heath, but the intensity of the work is the same. “That’s what I love about these watches,” he says. “The face will have been the sole focus of one person for at least one or two days.”
Movement: Sellita SW200-1
Enamel Colors: Iron cream; post office red; translucent blue; pink; black; Hebridean blue
Ball Trainmaster Standard Time
The old American railroad watch maker is based in Switzerland now, but it still makes beautiful, utilitarian timepieces. The Trainmaster Standard Time pairs a stainless steel case (or spring for rose gold, if your bank account can handle that) with a white enamel dial and a COSC chronometer-certified Ball movement. Oh, and as is the brand’s tradition, tritium tubes on the dial and hands make it the most legible ceramic watch out there.
Movement: Ball RR1105-C
Enamel Colors: White
Lundis Bleus Contemporaines
This independent Swiss watchmaker specializes in funky dials. The “Essentiales” and “Metiers D’Art” both feature stamped brass with galvanic silver plating, but the “Contemporaines” line has pure grand feu dials in seven different colors, and at a very affordable price. (Plus, the brand is named after the day-off benders that watchmakers historically took, called “Blue Mondays.”)
Movement: Sellita SW300-1
Enamel Colors: Various
Holthinrich Watches Delft Blue
Young watchmaker Michael Holthinrich is creating extremely unique skeletonized watch cases in the Netherlands using metal 3D printing. But the dial on his Delft Blue model steals the show; its creamy white with blue markers is a handmade masterpiece, sitting at a great in-between price point, thanks in part to his direct-to-consumer model.
Movement: ETA 7001, with custom hand engraving
Enamel Colors: Blue and white (also available in custom colors)
Ulysse Nardin Classico Manufacture
A deep blue grand feu-style dial, with guilloche patterning, powered by an in-house movement, all for less then $9,000 is — relatively — a hell of a good deal.
Enamel Colors: Marine blue
Breguet Classique 5177 Grand Feu Bleu
Breguet dropped this “bleu” version of its grand feu three-hander in 2019. For classic elegance in a dress watch, with an in-house chronometer movement using silicon parts, it’s just about perfect.
Movement: Cal. 777Q
Enamel Colors: BLeu
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel
JLC’s Master Ultra Thin enamel watches have been wowing us since 2014. But the best one yet was…