How Are Mother-of-Pearl Watch Dials Made?

A look that never seems to go out of style. A mother-of-pearl watch dial is as elegant as it is simple. A surprise shimmer that tells others, “there’s something special about this watch.” But you’ll never believe the work involved in getting June's birthstone to look so classic and clean.

Mother-of-pearl is the lining found inside a shell. It’s extremely fragile, and prone to chips and cracks. Separating it from its shell is no easy thing. Getting it from shell to dial can take up to 6 weeks and involves 15 artisan steps. Because of this, mother-of-pearl watch dials are mostly made by companies that specialize in working with shell.

To drill through a shell is surprisingly dangerous. The dust that comes from drilling is extremely fine and very sharp, and has been known to damage people’s lungs and windpipes. Once the ideal shells are chosen they are crushed and then precisely machined into thin sheets no more than 0.2mm thick. Swiss dial makers have created a way to cut perfectly round blanks of the substance using computerized machines.

Image Credit: The Jewellery Editor

After the round blank is made, the rest of the process is mostly done by hand. Each disk is carefully inspected before anything else is added. Careful polishing follows and painting, varnishing, or lacquering the back is done to enhance the color and durability of the disk. Mother-of-pearl dials can be engraved or finished with many embellishments, but numbers, markers, and cut-outs are the final step.

Crafting something so small and delicate is an amazingly complex process. Even a large dial making company with a dozen skilled makers can still only produce about 5,000 top-quality mother-of-pearl dials each year.

With such effort going into just the dial, you can wear your watch knowing this classic look required weeks of hard work and skill to make happen. 

See this Omega De Ville and other works of pearl art first hand at our Friendly Center and Winston-Salem locations.

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