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The ancient art of engraving

Like enamelling, engraving is a rare craft. It involves mechanically engraving repeating patterns onto metal or wood – more specifically, these are parallel or intersecting straight or curved lines that have a regular and symmetrical design.

In high-end watchmaking, engravers use this technique to decorate the surfaces of timepieces. Certain classic patterns are associated with this discipline, such as the sunray finish, "côtes de Genève" or Geneva waves, snailing or overlapping circles called "œil-de-perdrix". To create these decorative elements, engravers work by hand using tools such as a chisel, or alternatively they use a guilloché lathe (also known as a rose engine lathe).

Engravers mainly decorate watch dials, but may also embellish other parts of the movement. Once they have prepared the surface, which may be flat or curved, they apply the desired pattern to it. This work is artistic and precise. Engravers are also responsible for applying the finishing touches and for cleaning and polishing the product. This sometimes involves handling dangerous chemical products, which means they may need to wear protective equipment such as gloves, safety goggles or a mask.

This highly specialised form of watch decoration was very popular up until the second world war, but became something of a lost art afterwards. However, it has enjoyed a revival in recent years thanks to the growing popularity of luxury mechanical watches. Engravers can be found in workshops alongside watch decoration finishers and micro engineers. They may also work in other sectors such as tableware, in particular silverware, where they decorate one-off artefacts or limited series. Other items that may be decorated by an engraver include weapons and headstones. Engravers may also be called upon to restore old artefacts.

Skills required: patience – discipline – precision – concentration – dexterity – visual acuity – manual skill – team spirit


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