Since my debut in the world of vintage watches as a passionate collector even before that as a professional, enamel decorated dials have always exerted an irresistible charm on me, which promptly turned into a real passion. I’ve collected a fair amount of these watches over the years, including the two represented in these pages, and I started when they were still considered nothing more then mere curiosity among collectors and dealers at the time.From the very beginning I noticed that these dials, although they appeared on models and manufactured very different from each other in both importance and price ranges, most of the times they had the exact same design features, which made it easy enough to notice at a glance the slightest abnormality, making it at least for me, pretty easy to spot the occasional faking attempts: when these colorful dials appeared on Patek Philippe, Rolex and Vacheron Constatin in particular, prices would usually rise sky-high.
The dials came almost all from the same factory, with a few exceptions. The Stern Frères Company. Since the early ‘40s to the late ‘60s had the most qualified Geneva enamellers in its payroll. Their creativity give birth to some of the most celebrated cloisonné’ dials of all time, such as, in addition to the caravels, Gauguin-style images representing views of virgin forest enameled in only few pieces made exclusively for Patek Philippe. These works were all handmade by Miss Marguerite Koch, perhaps the most appreciated enameller of all times working at Stern Frères.
The enameling process was not easy, and certainly not inexpensive. The dial had a gold base, which has a higher melting point than silver and copper. The main outlines of the design were obtained by molding with pliers a thin gold wire, which was then glued to the base with a plant based glue resistant to high temperatures. The cells (cloisons) obtained with the wire, were then filled with a powdered preparation obtained by colored quartz, which, after one or more passes in the oven, melted until reaching the consistency and transparency of glass. The shades that could not undergo such high temperatures were sometimes added afterward, and go to the oven at a lower temperature. Part of the finishing was that of applying a layer of transparent varnish.