Kees Engelbarts' Artisan Watches

by Ron DeCorte

April, 2005


For those who might not be acquainted with Kees Engelbarts there is an excellent TZ interview here.  

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 versions.


 Making Dials


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 engraving.


A finished dial, and the finished watch.

(Photo by: Maarten van der Ende. Courtesy of : Harry Winston)


 Engraving Tools



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.


Above, Kees' assistant Tatiana at her bench.


The Watches 

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

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 surface.  

Acids, heat, and natural oxidation can be used after the engraving process to create highlights and contrast between the exposed layers.


More information: 

For more information about Kees and his work, visit his web site at:



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© Ron DeCorte 2005, All rights reserved


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