Around 1786, Breguet began fitting his watches with engine-turned silver or gold dials of his own design. Hand-crafted engine-turned motifs are one of the unmistakable hallmarks of a Breguet watch. The brand’s famous dials are immediately recognizable and celebrated for the fineness of their patterns, reflecting the regularity of the movements within.
An engine-turned dial is indisputably a true work of art. Smooth to start with, the solid gold dial plate is first worked with a hand graver to outline and hollow out the areas of the dial reserved for such indications as the power reserve, the phases of the moon, the subdial for the seconds and others, depending on the model. Engine-turning as such can now begin, resulting in a finely textured, glare proofed matt surface. Not only do the decorative patterns selected – clou de Paris hobnailing, pavé de Paris cobbling, sunburst, barleycorn, waves, cross weave, checkerboard, flame and many more – make the dial far easier to read, they also contribute greatly to its unique character.
Today still, Breguet craftsmen continue to use engine-turning lathes designed and built over a century ago. With a precision of a tenth of a millimeter, they engrave intricate patterns reflecting their uncommon virtuosity. From start to finish, engine-turning depends essentially on the craftsman’s sharp eye and steady hand, of which the lathe is but an extension. Once the dial plate has been meticulously engine-turned by hand, it is silver coated using techniques developed over two centuries ago: powdered silver is delicately brushed on the plate with circular or linear movements, depending on the type of satin-like finish desired.
Today, the same kind of engine-turned guilloché work engraved on gold Breguet dials is also executed on delicate and brittle plates of mother-of-pearl – a truly impressive achievement in its own right.