Kees Engelbarts' Artisan
by Ron DeCorte
For those who might
not be acquainted with Kees Engelbarts there is an excellent TZ interview
I first met Kees
(pronounced Case) in March of 2004, thanks to Peter Speake-Marin who made
the introduction. Kees invited me to stay at his apartment in Geneve, that
he shares with his wonderful wife Pascale and son Daan, while making an
article about his work. Since that time we’ve become good friends sharing
a lot of good meals, a few beers, and a few bad jokes.
I’ve heard Kees
Engelbarts described as the “Jolly Green Giant” but this isn’t exactly
true. He is Jolly and he is a giant of a man, but he isn’t green!
Hopefully you have
read the interview with Kees and know his background. Now I would like to
take you through the process of how he makes his magnificent and totally
unique dials, and share some pictures of his watches that you may not have
seen before. You may click all of the images below to view larger
Kees is well known for his work in the
material –mokume gane- (see a technical description at the end of this
article). Here we see a dial platform prepared from mokume gane for a
rectangular watch. The preparation of a platform like this will take many
days. But this dial is only just getting started.
A block of solid gold is coated
with a thin coat of shellac and a paper outline is attached while the
shellac is wet. The shellac bonds the paper very tightly with the gold.
When the shellac is dry the outline will be transferred to the underlying
gold plate using a fine scriber….
...and the result will look like
this. Notice that the surface is just scratched and doesn’t have a lot of
detail or depth at this stage.
After removing the shellac
coating the gold block is cemented to a wooden block and placed in the
engraving ball. At this stage the outline is finalized and cut deeper.
Next the outline is removed from
the gold block using a piercing saw. Notice the outline is given a fair
amount of space, especially in areas of fine detail. After some detailing
of the outline using files and small detail saws the outline is again
cemented to a block and returned to the engravers ball for final
A finished dial,
and the finished watch.
Maarten van der
Ende. Courtesy of : Harry Winston)
Above left, a tiny
detailing saw. Above right, the detail saw in use. In actuality this “saw”
is used more like a file for getting into very tight areas and creating
details that would be impossible with a conventional file.
Above left, hand
gravers and files. Above right, an engravers ball (vise) sits in a leather
ring (donut) allowing it to be tilted at just about any angle. The upper
half of the ball rotates freely making it possible for the engraver to
turn the work as they are actually making a cut with their graver. Work
can be held between the solid-jaws or on the top surface using pins that
can be set into the holes for odd shapes. The jaws of the vise are opened
and closed with the removable handle.
assistant Tatiana at her bench.
I’ll let the watch pictures
speak for themselves. Definitely click these images to view the larger
versions and appreciate the craftsmanship.
Kees made the beautiful skeleton
watch shown above for his wife Pascale in 1995. Excuse a few scratches -
she wears it everyday!
Mokume Gane is a Japanese process of bonding multiple
thin layers of precious metals such as gold and silver. A typical mokume
combination used by Kees might be; white gold, silver, yellow gold,
silver, pink gold, shakudo…
Mokume means, “wood grained” and Gane means “metal”.
The metals are placed together in layers and pressed
while they are heated. It’s important not to use too much heat or the
metals will melt together into a blob instead of fusing into a multi-layered single piece with each layer preserving its unique properties.
A sharp, slightly curved graver is used to cut away
layers in certain areas, exposing underlying layers resulting in the
desired pattern. The piece is then sent through a rolling-press to flatten the
Acids, heat, and natural oxidation can be used after
the engraving process to create highlights and contrast between the
For more information about Kees
and his work, visit his web site at:
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DeCorte 2005, All rights reserved