by Dana Li
The Women in Watches series aims to share the stories of female watch enthusiasts, artisans, and industry professionals that are making great contributions to watchmaking, the watch industry, and collector communities.
Earlier this year at Wind Up San Francisco, I had an opportunity to meet members of the anOrdain team and see their beautiful watches in person. Not only are the designs incredibly sleek, but the enamel work on anOrdain's dials are truly some of the most vivid and striking I've seen. While talking to the team, I was also able to get a glimpse into the meticulous work that went into crafting each piece, deepening my appreciation for the process. One of anOrdain's talented enamelers who has been with the brand since the beginning is Morna Darling. She shares story and experiences working in the watchmaking world in this edition of the Women in Watches series.
How did you get into the watch industry?
"I have found myself in the watch industry quite unexpectedly. I studied silversmithing and jewellery at the Glasgow School of Art and set up my own jewellery practice after graduating. I also worked for several other jewellers. One of these jewellers was an enameller, and I learnt my initial skills from her, along with some of my own experimentation. Through a fellow graduate, I learnt of a small business looking for people with enamel and metalworking skills to make watch dials. Opportunities for jobs that utilise the skills I learned at university are scarce in Glasgow or even Scotland, and I jumped at the chance. Four months later, anOrdain launched our first model in September 2018, and it has been a privilege to see and be a part of the company's growth."
What kinds of watches do you appreciate and love to collect?
"As someone with a craft background, I am drawn to watches with some sort of unique element that has possibly been handmade or thoughtfully considered material choices, especially relating to dials. For example, fellow Scot Fiona Kruger's watches are beautiful works of art, bringing together an array of traditional watchmaking methods with incredible design and consideration of every single element of the watch."
What does your day to day look like as an enameler for anOrdain?
"Day to day as an enameller at anOrdain, I can work on up to six dials at a time. Generally, this will be dials for customers; however, a big part of our values as a company is driving forward what we are capable of and developing new designs. This means working on samples and development which is also a part of the job. We currently have six enamellers, and I am involved in the training of new staff. Working in such a close-knit team allows constant learning from each other, and we continuously question and improve our processes.
At anOrdain, we now have a staff of more than 20 employees, and it is always a pleasure coming into our workshops and working with such a talented and skilled team of passionate people."
Can you give any insight into the enameling process and your working process?
"At anOrdain, an enameller starts with a copper or silver blank. We work on all the processes that result in a finished dial, including enamelling, attaching feet that will secure the dial to the movement, and printing on the numerals. The dials are then satisfyingly handed over to our in-house watchmakers who assemble every anOrdain watch.
Enamelling is essentially fusing glass to metal. To enamel a watch dial is an intensive process, and up to eight layers of enamel can be applied to each dial. At anOrdain, we use the wet process method, which involves delicately using a paintbrush to apply grains of enamel, which are stored wet, to the dial. This was traditionally done with the quill of a feather. After each layer of application, the dial is fired in a kiln, and the enamel grains melt and flow in the intense heat and fuse together and to the metal base. This is repeated until the adequate thickness is reached and the dial is ready to be sanded to a flat finish before a final firing in the kiln, which leaves the dial glossy.
Of course, there are multiple steps in between, such as removing any imperfections in the layers on the dial, and each enamel we work with has its own unique properties and quirks, and we work with them all in slightly different ways. Lots of patience is required, and not all dials made are passable. This can be frustrating at times, but when you create a successful dial, the feeling of satisfaction is all the better."
Any notable pieces that you've worked on and are proud of?
"We have made a few one-off dials for charity auctions, and these are a really interesting way of trying out ideas that have been in our heads or that we have only made samples of previously and do not need to think about how to create a production run of. I made our first Cloisonné dial to raise money for World Central Kitchen. Cloisonné is a technique that uses very fine wires to create cells. You can create drawings with the wires and prevent different coloured enamels from merging by using the wires as walls. Enamel watch dials have to be incredibly flat in order to sit flush with the movement and fit in the watch case, so we must work within precise tolerances. Introducing wire into the design created problems to solve, which made the end result even more gratifying."
What are some emerging design trends that you're beginning to see?
"Colourful watches are on the increase. This is an exciting prospect at anOrdain as we have always offered our watches in various colours and carefully consider the colour of the printed numerals to complement the enamel. Enamel is available in many colours, each offering different effects in terms of opacity and texture. The enamelling team often tries sample colours, from zingy yellows to beautifully muted blues, and the possibilities seem endless. It's sometimes a tough decision to narrow our colour choices down!"
Is there anything you would like to see more of in the watch industry?
"I have a slightly rose-tinted view of women's inclusion in the watch industry as more than half of the employees at anOrdain are women, and they are involved in all aspects of the business, from design to production to operations and customer care. My few experiences at trade shows have opened my eyes to this not being the case across the industry and also to the treatment of women in the watchmaking world. This has included customers at our stand addressing only my male colleagues rather than myself and other watch company representatives presuming I am a girlfriend along for the ride. This can be frustrating, and I hope it can only improve with more women in the industry and a considerable change of perspective in the watchmaking world about seeing the opportunity of custom from women."