Creating the Côtes de Genève motif for a Vacheron Constantin movement part
Côtes de Genève
This is perhaps the most easily recognizable movement finish, although that doesn’t make it any less appealing. Côtes de Genève is usually translated into “Geneva Stripes,” but literally means “The Coast of Geneva” as the term is used to describe a finishing motif that looks like waves that lap upon a shore. Technically speaking, what we have is a series of parallel bars created through abrasion, with each bar or stripe containing a finely brushed semi-circular motif within it. A circular version of Côtes de Genève also exists with concentric circles replacing the parallel bars.
Interestingly, besides the refined visual effect, the Côtes de Genève—which, even more technically speaking, is a series of tiny scratches traced into the material—acts as a particle trap, to catch dust and other micro particles swirling inside a workshop that would otherwise end up inside the movement.
Among the many finishing techniques, this is the one that turns mere timepieces into luxurious works of art. Pioneered by A.L. Breguet, founder of his namesake brand, guilloché entered the history of watchmaking during the 1780s. The guilloché technique is most often used on movement and dials, but can also be found on a watch’s case or its case-back. The result that we see is an intricate and repetitive pattern engraved very, very precisely on a metal surface.
Traditionally, guilloché is done using specially-built cutting machinery such as the straight-line engine or, more famously, the rose engine. The latter uses a series of rosettes, which are templates to guide the actual cutting process. While it is technically a machine, a lot of skill and expertise go into operation of the rose engine.
First of all, selecting the cutters or drill bits and the placement of the rosettes needs to be absolutely perfect. Then, the speed of the engine’s rotation and the amount of pressure applied to dial or case is manually controlled by the guillocher. And mind you, unlike, say, an enameller painting an intricate design on a watchcase using the tiniest of brushes, a master guillocher paints an intricate design on a watchcase using a hulking piece of industrial equipment. Enameling is an extremely taxing art, but coaxing a piece of machinery the size of a car engine to create a tapestry of elaborate lines—each as thin as a human hair—is beyond impressive.
Nowadays, old-school rose engines are becoming increasingly rare as they are no longer produced. The people proficient in using these machines are also becoming rarer, especially as automated guilloché machines are becoming more and more advanced. As such, handmade (or hand-guided, if you want to be technical) guilloché is a true mark of luxury.
Now, guilloché allows a master artisan to create a wide variety of patterns, but there are a number of motifs that are particularly well-known: There’s the Clous de Paris, hollowed lines forming a tapestry of tiny pyramids (created by Breguet); Sunburst, lines radiating from a central point; Grande Tapisserie, rows upon rows of identical squares (this one is a signature of Audemars Piguet for the Royal Oak watches); and many more.
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