In two previous installments, we have already taken a special an in-depth look into the most special world of Rolex manufacture. First, we introduced all four facilities, the magical location where all Rolex movements are manufactured. Today, we follow suit with a peek inside the Chêne-Bourg site where every dial-making and gem-setting task is performed.
The dial is, by all means, the face of the watch. Today we will focus on the site where they are produced and will dedicate one – if not more – separate articles to wonderful universe of Rolex dials. Still, we can say this much: a dial is just as delicate a component, as any other in a Rolex watch. They require utmost precision in how every one of their parts are manufactured, handled and assembled.
A dial, perhaps more so than any other part of a watch, is a whole lot more, than the sum of its parts. As you look at your Rolex watch countless times a day, you take in the information that you seek – let that be the time, date, day, or some other indication –, along with a quick glance at one of the myriads of fine details so proudly put on display.
At Rolex's Chêne-Bourg facility, the gargantuan task of crafting each and every dial in a Rolex watch is conquered. It entails the perfection-driven execution of the following tasks: stamping, cutting, electroplating, Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) coating, guillochage engraving, enameling, and gem-setting.
The dial blanks and appliqués need to stamped and milled in preparation for their surface treatments and decorations. High-sheen polishing, subtle sun-burst polishing, beveling and other highly refined techniques are used on these minuscule components in an effort to attain their final shape and texture. Colors are acquired through electroplating, PVD coating or, naturally, from the color of the base material itself – as is the case with the gold appliqués and precious gems.
Machines of all sorts have been finely tuned, programmed, maintained, and are operated in constant supervision to acquire and sustain exceptionally high manufacturing standards and quality of execution. Quality control is a key component at each stage, from verification of the dimensions to the aesthetic finish, making the art of Rolex dial making a blend of the artisanal and the industrial – of tradition and modernity.
Rolex watch dials have played an invaluable role in rendering Rolex watches the icons that they have become. Part of this is their style, proportions and design... As well as their color. Before a dial would receive its final color, it is brought to an even, homogenous, matt surface.
Finely sandblasted and dipped into galvanic baths for a protective layer of gold and nickel, the dial blank is at last ready for one of the three main techniques used for coloring: lacquering, electroplating and Physical Vapor Deposition or PVD.
Opaque colors, such as black and white, as well as blue and green are lacquered; metallic colors – shades of silver, gold and rhodium – are obtained with electrolytic baths; whereas PVD can provide a virtually endless array of colors by coating dials with infinitesimally thin films of material – essentially oxides and metals – less than one micron thick.
Dial markings are transfer printed – the "Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified," and most all other tasks are carried out using pad printing, strictly after the dial has been colored. This method can, in two passes, transfer just enough ink to create the delicate three-dimensionality of these texts. Following this process, the dials are dried at 60 °C for about two hours.
The appliqués, i.e. the only few millimetre large, hand-applied hour markers are crafted from 3-meter-long bars of 18ct gold. None of them are ever glued to the dial. No, instead, they have tiny feet, thinner than a human hair, with a precisely determined length, with which they go through the dial's pre-cut holes, only to then be soldered on the back of the dial.
The assembly of a Rolex watch dial entails incredibly careful and calculated movements, as these precious, little components are applied on the fully colored and beautifully finished dials.
It is also here, in Chęne-Bourg, where the traditional craft and art of gem-setting is performed. Highly skilled gem-setters work with their own, personalized set of hand tools on preparing the perfect seats for the stones, mounting them with utmost precision, and then polishing each beading one-by-one. For each diamond-paved dial, some 2,500 beads are handcrafted – the equivalent of about four days' work.
All this tremendous effort and long-standing quest for perfection render each and every dial the worthy "face" of a Rolex timepiece.