“The Italian Job” REMADE enamel dials

The construction of Grand Feu enamel dials is a complex, time consuming and expensive process. Partly as a consequence of this process, vintage enamel dial watches have a unique, everlasting and truly magical charm to the new, seasoned and experienced collector. Vintage enamel dial pieces have a special aura about them and may exist in a state of time warp type beauty that almost mirrors the day they were born. For St Imier based Longines, almost all of their enamel dials heralded from dial maker Flückiger which is now owned by Patek Philippe.

The unmistakable beauty and sharp font of an all original Longines first series grand feu enamel hour angle dial made by Flückiger. At present there are just two known surviving examples. This piece delivered to Portugal has an oversized Red XII, that necessitates the special placement of the Longines text at six and an extra firing process for the second colour.

Whilst metal dials are accepted with a range of flaws, with descriptions that may range from shagged, to spider to spectacular and everything in between. Dealers now use the word spider to describe dials that were considered long gone when myself and those suffering greyhairitis started collecting. However, enamel dial collectors have not yet transitioned to accepting a spider version in their wish list or vocabulary, and consequently, they often seek seemingly a perfect or near perfect enamel dial.

The third and fourth generation of the Longines Hour-angle used a blue and black enamel dial. The blue degree scale 0’s should not touch the other numbers. A perfect original vintage Flückiger dial.

Grand Feu dials have a complex and expensive manufacturing process which results in manufacturing flaws. By default, the QC process means many are discarded and that makes perfect original vintage enamel dial models very special. They are even more exceptional when they are found within a special collectable rare model like the vintage Longines Weems, Lindbergh, or special enamel dial chrono, wrist or pocket watch from a variety of makers.

This redone enamel dial is easily identified with the touching 3 and 0. Similarly, the kissing between the 4 and the 5 is far too heavy. The blue dial pigment on a remade dial is also the wrong colour. Image – courtesy Phillips

Finding a perfect enamel dial in these rare watches is a challenge. Most dealers and collectors have likely never seen nor held an original version of the two vintage Longines aviation watches noted. This is one of the reasons the watch is not spruiked and promoted by one and sundry. Most Weems and Lindbergh pieces were delivered during the Great Depression and supplied at a time when overcoming air navigation’s challenges meant the difference between success and failure, and at times life and death.

Many were supplied to the military or used by military officers or explorers pushing aviation’s boundaries. It is important to remember that vintage 1920-1950’s aviation watches themselves are a particularly rare breed, and even moreso, if issued to the military.

The correct font and placement of numbers for the degree scale on an all original vintage Longines Grand feu Flückiger enamel dial. The blue pigment is also unique on an original dial and most often too dark on remade dials.

For anyone with a special interest in horology, vintage military aviation watches are without exception some of the rarest and most sought-after ticking survivors. 

Their rarity is of course attached to the extinction type outcomes of the pilot, plane, and their watch in early aviation history, especially during military engagement, and compounded by other unforeseen events post being issued.

The dangers and casualties of early aviation cannot be overstated and many a pilot lost their life pursuing new aviation frontiers. The loss of a plane generally involves loss of the pilot and their watch.

An all original vintage Longines Weems Flückiger second setting dial. Note the unmistakable Longines S and N’s and the serifs.

Enamel dials are susceptible to damage from impact like a heavy knock, being dropped and during careless service work from an inexperienced or lazy watchmaker.

Therefore, given early aviation challenges and their tool watch purpose and function it must be noted that finding a Longines Weems, Hour angle, rare enamel chrono, or other special vintage piece from this era with an all original and perfect enamel dial is a challenge.

In more recent times we have seen newly remade enamel dials appearing on the watch market. Of course, there is nothing necessarily wrong with a remade dial, given these Longines models are 75-90 years old. However, there can be no value comparison between a vintage Lindbergh with a flawless vintage enamel dial and one that has a remade one. They are vastly different beasts and one is multiples the value of the other.

A remade enamel dial with the 9 and 0 touching in the degree scale calibration. It is highly likely that the dial base is original but the enamel work is redone by a local aritsan and certainly not done by master dial maker Flückiger – Image – courtesy Phillips

Sadly, the watch business is about money and it is full of at times clever, entrepreneurial and often dishonest souls. Almost all, including the very biggest names in the business, seemingly suffer repeat and ongoing amnesia and the propensity to overlook and not disclose simple details that have a material and substantial effect on the price. Whilst this dial handiwork could be done in multiple countries, those the author has seen seemingly have an Italian connection – hence The Italian Job name.

Longines Lindbergh grand feu enamel dial first generation first chrome piece
Longines Lindbergh first generation enamel dial with a single colour print dial and clear separation of the 30-, 60-, and 90-degree scale numbers. A finely weighted Longines font on the world’s very first chrome cased Lindbergh supplied to Berlin in 1934.

I have experienced substantial losses firsthand with undisclosed hairlines by multiple dealers on Longines and other enamel dial pieces. The final straw came after discovering a remade hour angle dial post purchase from a very big Miami based American dealer who literally described it as mint. The watch with a remade dial was sent from Italy and the discovery made post event. Obviously, it was very far from the mint description noted by the dealer. Here are a few pointers to help in this identification process to save you a similar headache. Whilst there are subtle dial variations over time and within the model, the Longines font needs to be fat and thin in the right places and it is crisp and light from the factory.

The remade one suffers from bulges in the wrong places and the font and weight of the letters is easy to see when compared against an original one. The serifs are almost always wrong and there should be absolutely no touching of the 0’s with other numbers in the degree scale.

A perfect Longines and Flückiger grand feu enamel dial, exactly the way it left the St Imier dial maker’s factory 90 years ago.

This simple error with touching numbers on the degree scale has now been “fixed” in the next generation of remade dials, but the heavy overweight and tired font is a dead giveaway especially the N and S of Longines. There are 4 distinct hour-angle models with a number of subtle variations. To date, the author has only seen the blue and black dial being remade and the consistency of the blue pigment for the degree scale is also amiss.

The fine font of an original vintage enamel Flückiger dial (bottom) with the right letter weight and serifs versus the remade The Italian Job type dial (top). Note the weight of the letters is totally wrong, both the the S and N are like a snake that has ingested a pig and struggling with the digestion. The font is too heavy, all letters have their weighting and serifs out and the blue pigment is wrong. Image – collage (top) courtesy Phillips

It should be noted that the author has also discovered redone enamel dials on other “special” Longines and Omega models that lie in other collections. To identify a ring-in it is necessary to keep an eye out for font, spacing or inconsistencies with numbers on enamel dials and the texture of the base. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong about a remade or repaired dial, the failure to disclose it is problematic, completely unprofessional, and bordering on fraudulent in an age where it is known or should be by an experienced dealer. A remade dial is a fraction of the value of an original dial, and it is impossible to compare the two. The author is happy to try help keep The Italian Job limited to a great movie title only.

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