Stop the presses! Hermès has taken its already desirable Slim d’Hermès timepiece and turned up the desirability to 11, by offering a limited edition reference with an enamel dial. It’s called the Slim d’Hermès Email Grand Feu, and it’s incredible.
Ever since Hermès launched its new watch collection at BaselWorld last year, the brand has maintained the momentum it generated with new references. In January the brand announced the Slim d’Hermès Mille Fleurs Du Mexique with a hand-painted mother-of-pearl dial (click here), it expanded the dial options and presented new ladies models with the H1950 calibre (click here), and now there’s a enamel dial reference that’s limited to just 100 pieces.
We reviewed the time-only Slim d’Hermès and loved it (read that here), so we’re pleased to learn that Hermès hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel with this new limited edition reference. The watch sports the same slim and attractive 39.5mm case with vintage-styled lugs, and the in-house calibre H1950 with a 42-hour power reserve makes a return. The only thing that’s different is the dial, and what a dial it is.
The dial is the result of the rare and painstaking ‘Grand Feu’ enameling technique. The process begins by placing two small ‘feet’ on a copper plate or disc (the feet will later be used to attach the dial to the movement). Next, the artisan places the disc on a curved wooden support base, and rubs the surface to strengthen the disc, and trim it down to its final thickness of just 0.2mm. Without this step, the surface could warp and cause the glass enamel to crack.
The copper disc is then coated on both sides with a flammable liquid, following which the enameler applies thin regular dustings of white enamel powder, before firing it in a kiln at a colossal 830-degrees Celsius. It’s from this step of the process that the technique gets its name from – Grand Feu stands for ‘great heat’.
Once in the kiln, the liquid on the copper disc catches fire immediately, while the enamel powder fuses with the copper surface. Once the artisan is satisfied that the appropriate melting point has been reached, he or she removes the disc from the kiln. At this stage the first layer is transparent, blistered and presents as green in color, as a result of the reaction with the copper. The artisan then repeats the same process of coating, dusting and firing for five or six times, after which, the resulting enamel presents as extremely white, smooth and shiny.
In the case of the Slim d’Hermès Email Grand Feu, the enamel process is applied to all three dial levels; the first outer sector which has the hour markers, the second minute centre segment, and lastly, the seconds sub-dial at the six o’clock position. With the enameling complete, the artisan can then begin transferring the hour markers onto the outer section of the enamel dial.
Black enamel paste is used, and it is applied repeatedly via a dedicated gelatine pad. Once this part of the process is completed, the dial is subjected to a new firing in a kiln, which sets the inscriptions firmly, after which a piece of charcoal is pressed over the surface to ensure it is perfectly flat.
The next stage is one that is extremely delicate, as the artisan now has to finish the circumference of the enameled disc without chipping the enamel on the surfaces. As with the earlier steps of the enameling process, this too is done by hand – the artisan hand files the edges carefully in order to create angles that ensure the smooth dovetailing of the elements that comprise the dial. The three parts that comprise the dial on the Slim d’Hermès piece are then soldered to pewter (a malleable metal alloy) according to their specific nature.
All-in-all, the dial process on its own calls for no less than about eight hours of work. It is because of the time needed and complexity of the Grand Feu enameling process that watchmakers, generally, tend to rely on other enameling techniques to achieve their desired results. This is why the Grand Feu process is rare in modern times, though the payoffs are without equal – compared to other enamel finishes, the Grand Feu technique produces an intense color that will withstand the test of time, and the effects of sunlight, while the surface of the dial appears vibrant.
The Slim d’Hermès Email Grand Feu carries a retail price of US $23,000 but since it is a 100-piece limited edition, we reckon you’re unlikely to see it in a boutique window. If you’re interested in one, we highly recommend visiting your nearest Hermès boutique and speaking to a sales rep.
To learn more about Hermès, click here.
Update April 10, 2016
Here’s a video showing the work that goes into the creation of the Grand Feu enamel dials found on the Slim d’Hermès Email Grand Feu limited edition timepiece.