The dial is one of the most distinctive parts of a watch. Agreed? Many watch brands today use Mother-of-pearl (a popular and evergreen choice of material) for dials on both men’s and women’s watches.
What is mother-of-pearl exactly? Simply put, it is a defensive barrier by molluscs and oysters to protect their shells. It is the iridescent lining on the inside of a shell that is composed of many minerals, of which, calcium carbonate seems to be predominant.
FROM THE SHELL TO THE WATCH
The journey of this material from its role as a protective lining of a shell onto the glorious dial of a watch takes place in many stages. Firstly, the right shell has to be selected. It really comes down to the spectrum of watchmaking. Once the shell is selected, there is the incredibly complex and delicate process of actually extracting this lining (cutting them into discs) from the interior of the shell. It might sound straight forward, but the extraction process itself is an art on its own as even after surpassing this delicate task, there is the issue of the material being very brittle.
The discs are then polished and cut further depending on the thickness or thinness required followed by the machining of the dials into thin layers. There are other techniques as well. For example, crushing shells and then spreading the substance into thin plates.
AN UNMATCHED EFFECT
The natural shimmering effect of mother-of-pearl makes it a preferred choice for watch dials. Since the colours and patterns of these linings are not exactly the same, it accounts for the differences in the dial, making it all the more unique.
Mother-of-pearl dials can be engraved or finished in various ways. Decorative finishes and watch artistry is done in the front or back of the dial. All this is delicate handwork. There are specialised artisans who undertake the task. Other treatments include painting, varnishing or lacquering the back of the mother of pearl. Of course, embellishments like stones, diamonds, for example, add the final touch to the piece. The numerals and markers are also inked on the dial. In a few cases, cut-outs are made on the dial for the setting of gemstones or applied indices.
The mother-of-pearl may be a difficult and delicate material to work with, but it is the perfect canvas for a creative expression.