Secreted by mollusks as a defensive barrier to protect their shells, mother-of-pearl is an exciting new material for watch dials. In this article, we will learn how mother of pearl dials on watches are made?
Iridescent, mesmerizing and visually appealing, mother-of-pearl (Mother-Of-Pearl) is often considered the dial material of choice for more aesthetically-minded watches. However, unlike metal dials commonly used in everyday life, mother-of-pearl dials undergo a more delicate manufacturing process. But what exactly is the artistry behind making mother-of-pearl dials on watches, and why are watches with these dials so appealing?
What’s special about the mother-of-pearl dial on the watch?
It is the dial on the watch face that creates the unique personality of each watch. Regardless of what’s going on under the case, the dial is the first thing you see and will be the deciding factor on whether or not you like what you see. One of the latest trends in watchmaking is mother of pearl dials.
Mother of pearl is the iridescent lining you find inside the shell. Nacre is essentially a mixture of minerals including calcium carbonate secreted by oysters and mollusks to protect their homes from parasites and foreign objects. If a foreign object enters the shell, the mollusk will secrete layer upon layer of nacre, eventually creating a pearl. What interests us, however, is the iridescent finish, which is now widely used to make mother-of-pearl watch dials.
Conch appears to have been part of mollusk shells as long as the molluscs were – one of the most ancient members of the tribe, the mysteriously chambered nautilus, has not changed much throughout 500 million years. The shell of a living nautilus looks very interesting from the outside – it has an eye-catching tiger-striped pattern, the inside is lined with layers of iridescent mother-of-pearl, decorated more splendidly than any palace in the world. any king or emperor.
Nautilus snails have chambers
If you look at a sample of mother-of-pearl under a microscope, you will see something that looks like armor. Mother of pearl is made from small sheets of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate (Ca CO3), the material that birds use to make eggshells and the substance that most seashells are made of. The aragonite sheets are arranged in layers and these layers are glued together with a very complex organic matrix. If you compress nacre, the aragonite sheets at the pressure point will lock together, while the protein matrix will dissipate the pressure outward. It scratches relatively easily but is surprisingly resistant to other types of mechanical stress.
Mother of pearl is found in a type of snail shell
The special brightness of mother-of-pearl is called iridescence – a phenomenon in which an object appears to change color depending on your viewing angle. In nacre, the iridescence is structural – the size of the individual aragonite sheets is roughly the size of the visible light spectrum, and they can split light into longer and shorter wavelengths.
So why are mother-of-pearl watch faces notoriously fragile if the mother-of-pearl layer is so hard? This is mainly due to how thin the material must be cut to be used as a watch dial. The durability of mother-of-pearl, like any composite material, is due to the combination of the different properties of the different layers and as it thins, it becomes more and more likely to peel or chip when you try to cut it. or engrave it.
Obviously, watch faces have to be quite thin, and mother-of-pearl dials are no exception. For this reason, they are usually manufactured by professional companies that have the necessary experience to source quality raw materials and fabricate it.
Learn the process of making mother-of-pearl dials
Many watches today have mother-of-pearl cases as dials. This shimmering round dial exudes clean, classic and elegant beauty. However, mother-of-pearl is not an easy substance to work with. It is quite brittle and super thin when used as a dial and can break easily.
Depending on the complexity of the dial, the entire production process can take from one month to six weeks and includes 15 different manual steps. Therefore, they are mainly produced by companies that specialize in working with shells. Typically, a dial manufacturer with a strong team of about two dozen skilled workers can still only produce about 5,000 top-quality mother-of-pearl dials annually.
Mother of pearl dials can be engraved with patterns ranging from traditional sunrays to other decorative motifs
As with any man-made material, the initial selection is important to the quality of the final product. The first hurdle lies in finding the right shell color, as they often come in a variety of colors, from light green to pink, gray and brown. This process begins with case selection, especially at the highest levels of watchmaking. Top quality seashells are bright white in color and are sourced from Australia and other areas of the Pacific as well as other special seas.
Once the shells have been selected, they are crushed and then precisely machined into thin sheets typically 0.2 mm thick. From these mother-of-pearl panels, perfectly round faces or specially shaped pieces are precisely cut using CNC machines. These discs would then be used as watch dials. The dust emitted from drilling is extremely fine and very sharp and can be harmful to human lungs and trachea. Once the ideal shell is chosen, they are crushed and then precisely machined into thin sheets no more than 0.2mm thick. Swiss watch face makers have created a way to cut perfectly round blanks using a computer.
Many watches today have mother-of-pearl dials
Due to the complexity involved in creating dials and details, many dial makers purchase pre-cut dials and start the work from there. At this time, much of the work related to the dial was done by hand. Each plate of mother-of-pearl used for the dial is carefully inspected and then the process of further beautifying the dial begins.
Mother of pearl dials can be engraved or finished with all sorts of patterns from traditional sunrays to decorative motifs. All of this is delicately done by hand on the front or back depending on the design.
The color of the dial can be enhanced by painting, varnishing or lacquering the mother-of-pearl back. Generally, mother of pearl has a milky white luster, however it can have natural pearly colors such as light blue, pink, gray and brown. Polishing is an important step as it brings a natural shine to the case.
Mother of pearl is very brittle and extremely thin when used as a dial and can break easily.
Some brands also start with a thicker dial and then engrave a lot of mother-of-pearl to give it a sculptural appeal. This is the case with many d’art meter dials that depict natural scenes, birds or animals on them. These dials take longer to create – it often takes an artist months to bring them to life.
Generally, the numerals and hour markers are then printed onto the dial or cuts are made into the dial to accommodate gems or markers. Other decorative details, including hands or any diamond accents, are added last. The finished artwork will then move to its correct position on the watch.