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Watch company archives have been extensively mined over the past years for inspiration from the 1950s and 1960s, with no iconic dial left un-reissued. 1 category of neo-vintage layout left unexplored, however, is the tooth dial — a craft that elevated the watch dial to the level of fine art in the 1950s.
The teeth dials created by Rolex from the mid-20th century are among the rarest and most valuable in the entire world — and also the funniest. Until now.
Ematelier, a contemporary master of the tooth arts, has developed a way to pay homage to these masterpieces. But they are as difficult and time-consuming to make as the originals. “This notion and those dials are certainly not for everyone,” says Ematelier’s Alex Landa. “Our customers thus far have had a strong affinity specifically for watches with enamel dials and for rare and special pieces. These bespoke dials originated from habit requests, and have been driven by the desires of our customers.”
The 1950s represented the heyday of all cloisonné enamel dial artwork, but that doesn’t mean that the dials were being churned out in large quantities. The couple brands making them at that time — Rolex watches, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Omega, for example — only produced a few hundred in total throughout the 20 years that they were being created, from the late 1940s to the 1960s. Few artisans were effective at producing them. The main motifs were Viking boats or caravels, maps, peacocks, Neptune, and dragons.
Christie’s auction house sold a part using a Neptune dial made in 1953 for CHF 609,000 (roughly $630,000) in a Geneva auction at 2011, and a similar one with a map motif at a New York auction for $425,000. Phillips sold a reference 6085 with a dragon dial for $676,700 at a Geneva auction in 2016 and a similar slice at a Hong Kong market a year earlier for $750,000.
Every dial was created individually by one craftsperson in the cloisonné style. Cloisonné signifies”partition” since the technique involves putting thin gold wires onto a dial to separate each enamel color that creates the composition. The spaces inside each cloisonné are filled with tooth powder, and every color is fired separately in an oven at 800 degrees Celsius. However, the dials frequently don’t get to there. Every time that the dial is fired or polished there’s a high chance it’ll crack, change colour, or have undesirable marks. The rejection rate in cloisonné enameling is extremely high.
Reproducing them today is no less hard. Ematelier has thoroughly maintained the methodology, artisanship, and superior grade of the originals, and has gone even further: The enamel is mirror-polished.