They are the unifying element common to all the models in the new jubilee collection from IWC Schaffhausen: white or blue dials with a sophisticated, high-quality lacquer finish that is painstakingly applied in over a dozen coats and then printed. The final hand polishing endows them with an extraordinary sense of depth. And the perfect aesthetic balance running through the enormous range of models in the collection is achieved by adapting the complicated manufacturing process individually for every single dial.
The jubilee collection unveiled by IWC Schaffhausen to mark its 150th anniversary embraces over two dozen models. The choice ranges from classic three-hand watches, such as the Portofino Automatic Edition “150 Years”, through to highly complicated masterpieces of Haute Horlogerie like the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Edition “150 Years”. Although the watches belong to different families, they are instantly recognizable as members of the jubilee collection. “The design element linking all the watches in the collection are the white or blue dials with their unusual lacquered finish,” explains Thibaut de Nantes, IWC Schaffhausen's dials and hands specialist.
A specially developed lacquering process creates the enamel-like look
The inspiration for the lacquered dials came from the historic enamel dials which IWC used for its iconic Pallweber pocket watches in the late 19th century. Enamel is made by melting powdered silica or oxides on metal or glass. And because the melting process is stopped before completion, the mass solidifies to create a glass-like finish. “To enable us to maintain the same, absolutely constant aesthetic finish over the enormous range of dials in the jubilee collection, we decided to use a more modern production process based on high-quality lacquers that look uncannily like enamel,” explains de Nantes.
The substrate used for almost all the watches is a plaque made of brass. Once the subdials have been embossed and the windows punched out, the blank is ground and polished. After this, the surface is sandblasted to roughen it slightly and help the lacquer to adhere to it more effectively. The Pilot's Watches are an exception. Here, the dial forms the upper section of the cage that protects the watch against magnetic fields and is made of iron. The iron blanks are also nickel-plated to protect them against corrosion. Only then is it possible to move on to the actual lacquer treatment. First come four coats of the lacquer base in white or blue. “We carried out countless experiments to find the correct shades. It was particularly difficult with the white dials because they could neither be ivory-coloured or pure white,” recalls de Nantes.
Many coats of transparent lacquer create optical depth
The next stage of the process involves the application of up to 12 coats of transparent lacquer. The lacquer used is a particular type ideal for polishing and consists of solids suspended in a liquid component. After drying, the residual solids form a layer on the dial consisting – among other things – of bonding materials, acrylic and polyester. After each coat, the dials are transferred to an oven for half an hour to allow the lacquer to harden completely. All these processes take place in a cleanroom atmosphere to ensure that the surfaces retain their immaculate high-gloss finish. Just a single speck of dust would destroy the stunning aesthetics. After resting overnight, the dials are flat-polished. “The manual polishing process gives them the desired enamel effect. It creates an impression of considerable depth, although the entire lacquer coating is only 0.1 millimetres thick after polishing,” explains de Nantes.
Dials with totalizers, such as the Pilot's Watch Chronograph Edition “150 Years”, represent a more significant challenge than other models. After lacquering, the outer edges of the subdial are no longer vertical, meaning there is not enough room for the hands of the totalizers. For this reason, after the lacquering process, they are turned with a special tool until the outer edges are once again as sharp as a knife-edge.
We had to modify the production process individually for every dial.
The manufacturing process was modified to suit every single dial
Another issue that posed a problem for Nantes and the interdisciplinary project team was the enormous variety of dials in the jubilee collection. While the Portofino Automatic Edition “150 Years” has just one hole for the hands and a date window, for instance, the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon Edition “150 Years” needs a hole for the hands as well as apertures for the tourbillon and the moon phase display. “To ensure that the very narrow tolerances for these apertures are met after lacquering, we had to adapt the process for every single dial. In some cases that meant making the necessary modifications to the blank itself,” says de Nantes.
The manual polishing process gives the dials the desired enamel effect.
The printing appears three-dimensional
One of the unusually appealing features of lacquered dials is the printing. The inspiration for this came from the first Portugieser (Ref. IW325) made in 1939, which likewise featured a printed dial. “We decided not to use appliqués for the numerals and indices throughout the entire collection, which means that the printing alone must create the impression of spatial depth,” is how de Nantes describes the challenge. The specialists tried out various tools and experimented with the number of times the dials were printed. With some models, achieving the best possible result called for modifications to the dial design. This was the case with the Portofino Chronograph Edition “150 Years”, whose printed subdials create an astonishingly realistic sense of three-dimensionality.
But even the most beautiful dial is useless if it does not show the time. In the jubilee collection, the watches with white dials are fitted with blue hands while those with blue dials have rhodium-plated hands. The cornflower blue colour of the steel hands is the result of a special heat treatment at 300 degrees Celsius. The gleam of the rhodium-plated hands on the watches with blue dials comes from up to four electroplated coatings. “The combination of dial, printing and hands is immediately recognizable and will continue to give owners enormous pleasure when they think back to IWC's 150th jubilee many years from now,” concludes de Nantes with some confidence.
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