Odd Touchon Minute Repeater Dial

Ethan Lipsig

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I have a nice 14k Touchon minute repeater with a movement based on a LeCoultre ebauche. What is unusual about this watch is its dial, which has a finish I have never seen in any other pocket watch. Except for the finish, the dial is a typical white enamel dial with Breguet Arabic numerals. Its subseconds dial is not sunk or just barely sunk. But what makes the dial unique is its crinkly finish. It is very hard to photograph the finish, but it is original to the dial, very uniform in texture, and obviously a design element rather than a manufacturing defect. I am hoping that one of you (Philip Poniz, are you the one?) will be able to cast some light on this unique finish, e.g., what it was called, who used it, and how common it is.

DSC08006.JPG DSC08013.JPG
 

Ethan Lipsig

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That's a much nicer description of the dial's finish than "curdled".
 

Jerry Treiman

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This is a lovely and unusual dial finish. It reminds me of the "sparkle" finish seen on some metal Illinois dials.
 

John Cote

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I believe I have an Omega dial the center section of which has a similar finish. I will try to dig it up. Anyway, I like your Touchon dial.
 

Philip Poniz

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Hi Ethan,

Years ago, I spent months studying and working on enamels. Your post brought out some reminiscences.

In theory, the enamel is just glass. However, pure silica needs over 4000ᴼ F to fuse. Therefore alkalis are added, usually, sodium or potassium carbonates, to lower the melting temperature. The problem with those is that they are hygroscopic. If they absorb moisture, they begin to travel to the surface. The exterior visualization can be in several forms, including what is happening on your dial. The white spots, most likely, are microscopic cracks that look like spotting. It is prevalent at the numeral 4. On watch dials, more often than not, they appear in the form of “frosting”. I have seen your type of crizzling rarely on watch dials, more often in old enamels and glass. Generally, the crizzling hardly ever can be stopped.

Enameling always has presented problems. About twenty years ago, I restored a Swiss watch for the Chinese market, missing a large piece of enamel. Recently, the collector sent it back because the enamel developed a crack where the new enamel joined the old one, with frosting coming out. Here the problem was different; the Swiss enamels of the period, especially for the Chinese market, are relatively soft. To restore them with hard enamel is challenging for the risk of melting the original. Therefore, a special agent must be added, lowering the melting temperature considerably, which, apparently, after a couple of decades, can cause problems.

Philip
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Thank you for your, as always, erudite response. If I understand it, it implies that the dial's "crizzling" was unintended damage. We have all seen enamel dials with minor flaws, but the crizzling on the Touchon dial so uniformly covers it that it would never have been installed if the crizzling had been regarded as a defect. The white spots on the dial that you saw really are shiny sparking highlights (the dial is very difficult to photograph accurately). Jerry Treiman, who has seen the watch first hand, said in post 4 of that it has "a lovely and unusual dial finish. It reminds me of the "sparkle" finish seen on some metal Illinois dials." Have you ever seen an intentionally crizzled enamel dial on a pocket watch?
 

Philip Poniz

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Without microscopic examination it is impossible to determine if the effect was purpose-made for three reasons;

1. Crizzling takes place years after making, the manufacturer would have to wait a decade if not more, to put such a watch on the market,
2. Crizzling in not stoppable. In a few decades the effect will be considerably stronger. Eventually, the numerals will be barely visible.
3. Sprinkling a dial with a shiny compound, after painting the name and numerals, is also unlikely. If done, it would have been made before painting the numerals.

In wristwatches, one can find such effect, for instance, on Rolex Lapis Lazuli dials where the spots are naturally occurring.

Daytona lapis lazuli MN876.jpg

Like Jerry said, regardless what it is, it made the dial attractive. Wristwatch collectors discovered long time ago, that time-affected wristwatch dials, Rolex in particular, have a strong appeal. For instance, some chronograph dials that originally had white tracks around the subsidiaries, in time, became darker, sometimes dark brown.
It seems that Patrizzi noticed the effect first, or at least, was the first to describe it. Today, they are known as Patrizzi dials and bring tens of thousands of $ premiums. Patrizzi’s dials keep deteriorating all the time. It does not bother wristwatch collectors willing to pay six figures for them.

Why don’t we call the dials described by Ethan, Lipsig dials, and put a premium on them?
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Thanks, Philip.
 

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