Swiss Maison shows off its techniques

Calatrava Azulejoses with the Barge and Porter motifs.

An uninterrupted 178 years of watchmaking has seen Patek Philippe accumulating mechanical mastery as well as artisanal skills, the latter of which being their rare handicrafts.

Enamel art is highlighted in two Calatrava Azulejos timepieces, which premiered at BaselWorld this year.

Azulejo refers to an artistry of Arabic origin in which individual square ceramic tiles are assembled to create murals on extravagant villas as well as buildings, walls and façades in public spaces, particularly in Portugal and Spain.

The weather-resistant tiles can withstand significant temperature fluctuations and torrential rainfall as well as the coastal regions’ salty air. Azulejos can be multicoloured or monochrome, with blue particularly commonplace.

Powered by the Calibre 240, the rare handicraft wristwatches boast monochrome blue mosaic-like motifs, one of the barge, the other the porter.

Reproducing this art on enamel, each portrait is applied to a thin, round 18k gold plate, whose back is covered with a coating that prevents the dial’s deformation in subsequent firing passes in the kiln at 800-850C.

A white enamel primer is applied on the front side of the plate before layering enamel paints in various shades of blue to recreate the azulejo amid the confines of the small dial.

The trompe l’oeil technique is used to create a ceramic look, as if the dial were composed of many tiny tiles. The enamel artist uses a binocular microscope and brushes consisting of a single badger hair to precisely paint the minuscule details.

One enamel layer after another is applied and fired in a painstaking and risky process, as the wrong oven settings would irreversibly damage the dial.

The creation of a single azulejos dial calls for a dozen firing passes. After each one, it must be slowly cooled in a controlled manner to prevent stress cracks in the enamel compound.

The finished miniature is then sealed with a highly transparent enamel coating to preserve its beauty as the face of the white gold limited editions.