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The Transition Away From Hand-Painted Dials

Hand-painting dials proved to be a tedious task in the watchmaking process without much room for error. In the 1880s, watch companies began to explore new methods for marking dials more efficiently. 

A variety of innovative methods were developed during this period, including procedures involving photographic techniques to precisely adhere black enamel power to the dial surface. One of the more reliable methods was transferring the design to the dial with a steel-engraved block and rubber pad.

By eliminating the process of painting dials by hand, the designs became more uniform and more intricate styles could be applied at a larger scale. Instead of company names being signed in a traditional serif style, most moved to modern styles, implementing design flourishes or non-linear structures.

By the end of the 1880s, the majority of watch manufacturers in the United States had transitioned away from the art of hand-painting dials.

The Waltham dial pictured represents a signature design that was likely applied by photographic process around 1888.


“American Waltham W. Co.” Dial Signature –
Grade No. 35 – 18-Size, Model 1883, 15 Jewels, c.1888, Serial No. 3774652.

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