It’s rare to see bold or hand-made elements in microbrand offerings, especially in the “under EUR 1,500” category. Handcrafted guilloché dials, in-house calibres and advanced complications are generally reserved for luxury brands with steep prices. Grand Feu enamel dials are a part of that list, but Scottish newcomer anOrdain managed to produce them for its inaugural watch, the affordable anOrdain Model 1. It was a rough road to travel, and some of the highest-end brands continue to outsource enamel dials to companies like Donzé Cadrans in Switzerland, but after three years of research and experimentation, anOrdain accomplished what many others couldn’t – in-house vitreous enamel dials. After a well-received debut, the now sold-out Model 1 has a successor, the anOrdain Model 2.
It’s a very different piece with changes in size, finish, hands and even movement, but the overall vibe and signature enamel dials remain. Let’s take a closer look at this second offering from Glasgow, Scotland.
REMINDER ABOUT ENAMEL DIALS
Remember when you were a kid and created less-than-stellar clay masterpieces in art class, only to be warned that possible destruction loomed in the fiery depths of a kiln. If your pot or sculpture escaped cracks or a small explosion (or shrapnel from a nearby explosion), you were among the lucky ones who could force their parents to display the hard-to-identify gem to neighbours and guests. Enamel dials are kind of a grown-up version of this concept, but with multiple firings and tolerances so strict that even a grade school Michelangelo would be overwhelmed.
They first appeared in horology around the tail end of the 17th century in France and Switzerland when pocket watches were invented, but the art of enamelling goes much farther back and can be found in Ancient Egyptian artifacts. So why is it such a difficult craft today? Modern technology simply can’t replace an artform that requires laborious handwork, a lot of experience and a little luck to pull off.
Below, the process of creating “Grand Feu” enamel dials (at Donzé Cadran):
Starting with a metal disc (copper in this case), a ground powder of silica, red lead and soda ash is applied and then fired at over 830°C (1,500°F). This is done for each layer – with anOrdain’s dials requiring up to eight. After a layer cools, it’s carefully hand-sanded and the process repeats until the desired thickness and finish are achieved, resulting in a deep, glassy surface. Cracks or small defects are borderline likely to occur, and if so, the entire process starts over. Only perfectly uniform and coloured dials are acceptable, resulting in an average production of only eight dials per week. The aforementioned Swiss dial enameller Donzé Cadrans states that up to 75 percent of its enamel dials are discarded during production. This is more of an art than science and objectively wasteful, but the final product has a colour, depth and richness that no other material can match (although it can be argued that a well-crafted lacquered or porcelain dial comes close).
anOrdain is the brainchild of industrial designer Lewis Heath who founded the company a few years ago by assembling a small team of designers and watchmakers to create something unique. Enamel dials would be the centrepiece with watch cases, typography and hands all being designed in-house. The name “anOrdain” comes from Loch anOrdain, a lake where Lewis was fishing when he theorized that if designers are involved in the manufacturing process and vice versa, new ideas and processes will inevitably emerge and problems can be solved together.
The Model 1, the first watch launched by anOrdain
He applied this logic to anOrdain and the Model 1 is a testament to its success. Glasgow, Scotland isn’t really associated with watchmaking or Grand Feu enamelling, but Lewis and his team have defied the odds with both in-house enamel dial production and designs, all while maintaining accessible price points. An impressive feat indeed.
Case and Design
The Model 1 could be considered a small watch at 38mm, although I think it hit a sweet spot for a contemporary elegant watch. The Model 2 ratchets it down to 36mm (11mm in height), which is a small watch by most standards today. The Farer Stanhope is among my favourite watches and sits right between the two at 37mm, but wears surprisingly well (larger than the dimensions suggest). Although the anOrdain Model 2 is close on paper, it feels smaller in practice. Even the “small” Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanicals fall in at 38mm.
Why am I dwelling on this? I just couldn’t understand why anOrdain would make an already small watch even smaller, below the threshold of mainstream appeal (perhaps even for a so-called unisex piece). Then I strapped it on my wrist and things began to make sense. I’m not always a fan of the vague “tool watch” designation, but this one definitely qualifies. The size is one of its biggest assets, disappearing on your wrist as you go about your day, whether on the hiking trail, beach or office. It’s both outdoorsy and elegant, and I quickly grew to appreciate its small dimensions.
The anOrdain Model 2 I had for this review features a brushed 316L stainless steel case, but polished cases are offered depending on dial colour. The screw-in caseback is solid, a change from the Model 1’s exhibition back, and I kind of miss that original setup. The dial is protected by a sapphire crystal with six layers of anti-reflective coating, surrounded by a wide, sloping bezel. Reflections are minimised, but still apparent and the glassy enamel is partially to blame. The case slopes outward on the right side, forming a crown guard that fits the field watch aesthetic, while the left side has a round, bulbous shape between the lugs. The crown is signed with the company’s logo and doesn’t screw down, and the watch is water-resistant to 50 metres. Although simple and clean, the case has a surprising amount of character and is certainly not generic.
Dial and Hands
The enamel dials of the anOrdain Model 2 are the star attraction and every bit as gorgeous as the inaugural offering. Six colours are available – torr blue, moss green, grey, white, midnight green and purple (I have the midnight green variant). The depth and richness of the finish have to be seen in person to be appreciated. The midnight green is darker than I expected, almost black in appearance, and I wasn’t quite able to bring out a deep green in any light.
Nevertheless, It’s a beautiful dial and stunning achievement at this price level from such a young company. Enamel is where the similarities to its older brother end, however, with changes to every other element. The typography is not only different, but it’s a new font entirely that was designed in-house. Outlined Arabic numerals are printed every two hours with matching baton markers between, and all numerals are straight (they were angled on the original).
The company’s name has moved from 9 to 12 o’clock, “vitreous” has moved from between 1 and 2 o’clock to below 6 o’clock (and is now “VITREOUS ENAMEL”) and the original’s minute track has been deleted altogether. The syringe-style hour and minute hands from the Model 1 have been upgraded to an openworked, custom design with long Super-LumiNova tips (the only lume on the dial). These small twin glowing lines in an otherwise sea of darkness can be a challenge at night. There is also no seconds hand this time around. The upgrade is a simple, classy evolution and I have no real complaints.
Powering the new anOrdain Model 2 is a Sellita SW210-1, modelled after the ETA 2801-2. The movement is hand-wound now, differing from the automatic Sellita SW200-1 from the previous watch. It has 19 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) with a 42-hour power reserve.
Functions include central hours, minutes and hacking seconds (except that the seconds hand has been removed here). Although nothing fancy, it’s an interesting movement visually that I wish had been showcased behind an exhibition caseback. As with some of the other changes, it’s also a curious (and potentially polarising) move from automatic to hand-wound, but one that I personally appreciate.
My piece came with an 18mm pin-grain kidskin leather strap in a reddish-brown colour and fitted with a stainless steel pin buckle (with anOrdain engraved). It’s unpadded, but not too thin and was comfortable out of the box without being stiff. In fact, anything thicker would potentially overwhelm the small dimensions of the case. A couple of weeks on the wrist will soften it up even more.
If you’re not really feeling this one, strap options abound with black or brown shell cordovan, grey or green suede, Russian hatch bovine leather, natural goatskin and a stainless steel Milanese mesh. I rather like the one fitted to my piece, although I’d be curious to try the black cordovan or Milanese bracelet.
The anOrdain Model 2 is an excellent piece on its own, but compared to the original, I have some thoughts. I’m not thrilled with a couple of omissions, like the lost seconds hand and exhibition caseback, but that’s not a negative per se. I genuinely do like the clean look of just an hour and minute hand, especially with the custom openworked design, and a steel caseback does fit the field watch theme.
In any event, enamel dials are still what it’s all about and this one doesn’t disappoint. I was a little puzzled by the apparent lack of deep green in the enamel, although the dial itself is still gorgeous and truly differentiates this piece in a way that’s almost unheard of at this price point. And I quickly grew to like the smaller size, although I’d be fine with a 38mm case as before. Perhaps the Model 3 will offer a couple of size options. At the end of the day, anOrdain has created a solid, desirable follow-up to its inaugural Model 1 and proves that some out-of-the-box thinking and perseverance can have stunning results. I’m looking forward to the company’s future offerings.
You can make a purchase and find more information on anOrdain’s website.
This post first appeared on Monochrome Watches - An online magazine dedicated to fine watches.