Last fall, we wrote for the first time about anOrdain, a Scottish company producing in-house enamel-dialed watches in Glasgow. At the time, the company was just six people strong and only capable of churning out 8 dials per week using the grand feu enameling technique, which involves covering a copper dial with ground enamel powder and then firing it in an oven.
Until anOrdain was established, there were very few companies one could look to for an affordable enamel-dial watch — because of the time and costs involved with firing enamel dials (and the steep learning curve), these timepieces can often cost tens of thousands of dollars. Sure, an enormous watchmaker like Seiko can produce something like the Presage with an enamel dial (which we loved, by the way), but if you wanted something slightly more out of the ordinary, you’d have been hard-pressed to find it.
“We tried making enamel dials elsewhere in the UK and people just couldn’t manage the tolerances, and didn’t have the passion to do it, so we started doing it ourselves,” explains company founder Lewis Heath. “A consequence of that is the price; the raw materials aren’t too expensive, once you’ve mastered the techniques then the cost is in labour — we’re now getting to the stage where we can make 14 or 15 per week with a team of three enamellers, so it’s starting to become a viable business, but it’s been a long way from that for the past four years. If we didn’t make them in-house then we’d be paying mark-ups for a third party and that takes you out of ‘affordable’ territory very quickly.”
anOrdain’s watches, as a consequence, run around 1,000 GBP (~$1,200-$1,300), which is very little money when you consider the size of their operation and the beautiful products they’ve been producing in just a few short years. anOrdain has won fans all over the world through their classically-inspired designs, beautiful dial colors and friendly attitude toward their clients, though Heath doesn’t draw the line at making exclusively enamel-dial watches, and there’s clearly plenty of exciting work to come down the pipeline.
“The crux of anOrdain has always been around fusing design with craft and experimenting, so we aren’t sticking to enamel religiously — there’ll be some work coming out which isn’t enamel soon, but there’s certainly a lot more to explore here!”
We recently visited anOrdain in Glasgow to get a better idea of how the company works its magic and makes these affordable beauties.
anOrdain is located in a multi-use building called Templeton on the Green that was once the Templeton Carpet Factory, first opened in 1892. (Given the lavish 19th-century styling, one can deduce that the firm was at one time selling lots of carpeting.) Converted into a business center in 1984 and then a mixed-use “lifestyle village” in 2005, it houses anOrdain’s operations, as well as a brewery/bar/restaurant.
Lewis Heath, founder of anOrdain, surveying his domain. The watchmaking and assembly area (indeed, the entire workshop) features custom-built furniture, and the large windows provide the necessary light for working with minuscule pieces. To the left in this image is Chris’s watchmaking bench.
anOrdain’s first watch, released in 2018, was the Model 1. With a typeset modeled on that of vintage Ordnance Survey maps, several different available dial colors and an extremely affordable price tag for an enamel watch, it was an instant hit. This particular one was a special edition of 6 pieces made by mixing all other dial colors together. Unfortunately, all Models 1s are now sold out.
Chris, who trained at the British Horological Institute, is anOrdain’s staff watchmaker, responsible for individually assembling and regulating each anOrdain watch, as well as carrying out repairs. According to Heath, Chris was the only active member of the BHI of working age who specialized in watches (rather than clocks) when he rang them up, looking for a watchmaker. “He’s a natural mechanic, very methodical and instantly understands how things work whether it’s a pocket watch or a car,” says Heath.
anOrdain is proud of the accuracy of its timepieces and offers a 5-year warranty on each watch.
anOrdain’s small size allows it to focus on each individual customer. Knowing which wrist a customer wears his or her watch on, for example, or what kind of lifestyle he or she leads, allows the team to custom-regulate each watch to the individual client.
anOrdain began operations in 2015, a full three years before the debut of the Model 1. The company eventually experimented with 168 different enamels from five different countries over a period of 4,000 hours across three years (whew!) in order to create the perfect enamel formula. Because of the painstaking process involved in making enamel dials, price points are usually much, much higher than what anOrdain charges.
Once a dial blank is cut from a sheet of copper, it’s coated in enamel powder (or a mix of enamel and water), which generally consists of silica, red lead and soda ash. (The reverse of the dial is also “counter-enameled” so that the dial doesn’t bend during firing). The blank is then fired in a small oven heated to 830°C multiple times until the correct finish is achieved.
Crafting enamel dials is an extremely precarious process — one little speck of dust beneath the enamel can ruin an entire dial, and this can occur at any point during the firing, on pass one, for example, or pass seven. Hence anOrdain’s initial output of only 8 dials per week, and lots of discards (and a few colorful experiments, too). These days, Heath says anOrdain is able to output about 14 or 15 dials per week.
Between each firing, an enamel dial must be sanded to a consistent, flat finish, and tools can include both specialist implements such as belt sanders and wire brushes as well as toothbrushes, paint brushes and other common items.
This blank is being used to test different typesets. The Model 1’s typeset was based on that of original Ordnance Survey maps of Lock anOrdain, in the Scottish highlands, whereas the Model 2’s typeset was based on 1950s industrial equipment. Who knows what will inspire the next iteration of anOrdain’s affordable enamel watches?
This Prometheus Kiln can heat materials up to 1,100°C (~2,012°F), though anOrdain’s dials are fired around 830°C, at which point the powdered enamel melts and covers the dial. Multiple firings are necessary (up to eight) in order to achieve a smooth finish.
The Model 2 is the next evolution in anOrdain’s design philosophy. Featuring unique, skeletonized hands holding thin tips, they’re extremely difficult to manufacture. The Model 2 dials feature a typeset inspired by 1950s industrial equipment, and timekeeping is carried out by the Sellita SW220, a handwound version of the SW200, which is itself a copy of the ETA 2824-2.
Though the enamel dials themselves are inspired by Scotland, it’s clearly anOrdain’s talented artisans who provided Heath with most of his design inspiration, and indeed, his impetus for moving forward with the brand. “There are some more obvious influences in terms of colour palette in the Model 2 being based around natural colours found in the highlands, but I’d say it’s the people behind the watch, and it’s really the team who make anOrdain and in turn, the watches. I felt from an early stage that the brand had its own personality; and for me that’s what makes a good company.
That personality is a combination of the people here. From a design perspective that personality is easily traced back to the two major art schools in Scotland (which everyone bar Chris came through): the Edinburgh College of Art and the Glasgow School of Art. And to my eye the anOrdain aesthetic is synonymous with those schools and the local creative scene which is intrinsically linked to them.”