Kees Engelbarts Hand Made Watches : Mokume Gane Dragon Collection

In the 1990’s, a Dutchman named Kees Engelbarts arrived in Geneva during the years of wanderlust that passed after receiving his engraver’s diploma from the renowned crafts school in Schoonhoven, The Netherlands. During his studies in Idar- Oberstein, Germany, his engraver’s education was taken a step further with the study of additional specialist techniques, and during work in Switzerland he mastered the art of engraving under the microscope. This opened up a whole new method of working that instantly fired his imagination and creativity. This was followed by steady work for various names in the Swiss watch making industry as an engraver in haute horology, Engelbarts often receiving requests for the production of unique pieces for discerning clientele. Later, he finally made the decision to stay in Switzerland and start off on his own.

Watches & Mokume Gane
The bridge from engraving to the creation of wristwatches was initially supported by a watchmaker friend. He told him to give it a try, and supplied him with various movements to disassemble, engrave, decorate and then reassemble. Slowly his expertise as an engraver entered the interior of the watch, the very heart of the movement itself. And his passion has remained there ever since. The Dutch have historically always been curious and extrovert when it comes to other cultures so perhaps it was already in Kees’ blood to look for inspiration outside of European traditions. Through contact with friends from Japan he was reintroduced to a centuries old technique called ‘Mokume Gane’, which was briefly mentioned in classes during his training. Invented by the master sword maker Denbai Shoami (1651-1728) and originally applied to the decoration of sword hilts and handles, it appears to us today as being very contemporary and intensely modern. Kees immersed himself in all the technical details, and became firmly convinced that if it were artfully applied, it could be a visual showstopper for wristwatch creations.

The final step to the actual realization of the first dragon watch came about through the intervention of a Japanese dealer who invited Kees to come to Osaka to demonstrate the engraving of Mokume. He was the first to order a watch from Kees, which on its arrival created quite a stir, and the concept of the present series was born.

Mokume Gane Dragon Collection Ref 371


The history of Mokume Gane
The technique of Mokume Gane (‘wood eye’ or ‘wood eye metal’) traces its conceptual birth in the methods used for traditional Japanese sword making, in which the hot steel used to create the blade is constantly folded over itself dozens of times and then beaten out into the proper shape by hand. On close examination, these layers of metal that result from the process of repetitive folding can almost be mistaken for wood grain or some similar organic form. (Hence the descriptive name referring to wood) However, Mokume Gane is composed only of non-ferrous materials, and in addition to folding, the layering is consciously built up in regards to color and thickness, much like a sandwich. (A Mokume ‘sandwich’ can contain more than 25 of these metal layers!) These metal plates are then pinned together, very tightly clamped and then placed in an oven. The heating must be closely controlled so as not to melt the layers, only fusing them together. This creates a new crystalline structure between each layer and the result is a new, coherent total mass, which can be worked as if it were one piece.

This block of layered metal is then worked over with U-shaped chisels in a pattern of choice over its surface. The artisan can also choose just how deep to go, much in the fashion of chiseling grooves in wood. The block is then put through a high-pressure roller several times, making it longer and thinner, and the above-described process is then repeated (much like making fresh tagliatelle in a spaghetti machine, starting from a big piece of dough). The final thickness is achieved through several of these steps, with the possibility to fold the metal or remove material with chisels at each stage of the process, consequently generating new resulting patterns. All kinds of beautiful patterns emerge, perhaps resembling the swirl of chocolate in ice cream, but more controlled. In combination with a large number of metals- gold, white gold, red gold, green gold, platinum, palladium, copper, nickel and many others- the effects are breathtaking.

But that is not all. After a particular Mokume Gane object is finished, it is also possible to naturally color the metals through the application of salts, ammonia, acids and other solutions, which can color just one metal in the multilayered matrix or several. Then, to make it all even more complex, one must also consider the three dimensions that the piece fills, and the layers through which the final shape will traverse. Working with Mokume Gane requires not only deep technical and metallurgical knowledge, but also three-dimensional insight into the hidden forms invisible from the outer surface. Kees’ choice was not only to use these complicated techniques, but to apply them for the first time to the world confined within the boundaries of a wristwatch.

Kees Engelbarts was the first to apply Mokume to wristwatches and create a personal engraving style uniquely suited to the material itself. “I often let myself be led by the material at hand, by the hidden colors of the layers of metal. If I see a vein of red coming out of the depth, I can intuitively follow it to accentuate the color of a tongue, the eyes, or other parts of the dragon’s physique. Of course, I do have a basic plan in my mind of how I want each dragon’s character to come out, but in the end, the Mokume itself also takes on a life of its own, and tells me what should happen!”Said Kees.

In the first unique Mokume dragon watch made, even the hands were created from small slips of Mokume which were twisted and then rolled again, then engraved, a highly delicate operation that makes them appear to swirl fantastically, as if in actual flame. All this work means each watch is not only unique, in having a distinct character and expression, but also a miniature work of art that you can’t stop looking at and admiring. With each glimpse, some other detail catches your attention. For this reason, the individually hand made cases, with their elegant, classical form, were chosen to act as complementary counterfoils to the dial’s intricacy. This miniature world of fantasy is contained within a dial of only 29mm diameter !

Mokume Gane Dragon Collection Ref 267


The Movement
Of course, once you’ve treated the dial side with this kind of microscopic attention, then the movement itself will invariably look like a poorer relative. So as could be expected, the movement of the watch complained that it also needed a new set of clothes, and Kees obliged. “I was looking at the movement, thinking about how beautiful it is mechanically- I use new old stock Universal caliber 66 with a micro rotor – but how much better it would look if also in Mokume.” Mokume does not lend itself directly for movement manufacture, so Kees decided to literally ‘clothe’ the movement with Mokume. The results are fantastic to see.

“Each piece of Mokume, however small, is fastened with small posts to each bridge, block and plate of the visible side of the movement, including the rotor itself. It’s real microscopic puzzle work. The Mokume patterns for the movement are coordinated with the dial side coloring and features”. When you watch Kees, who is tall, bent over and peering through the microscope lens, he invokes the image of a friendly giant building a small stadium for an ant farm. The work on the dial alone takes several weeks; add another several weeks for the above mentioned additional work on the movement and for final assembly. Whether Mokume or not, each bridge and part must also receive anglage and attention to finish just as any other Swiss manufactured watch would.

Kees has a thorough knowledge of watch making, but his younger brother Bart, a professional watchmaker who also lives in Geneva, takes responsibility for the assembly, adjustment, control and timing of all the Engelbarts watches. Both brothers are intensely proud of this family tradition and each other’s ability in this perfectly dovetailed enterprise. It also means that all clients of Engelbarts’ watches are getting the best of both worlds: original design based on centuries old techniques, combined with new movements that have become collector’s items in themselves- with two professionals from both disciplines behind them. This first limited Mokume Dragon is available in skeletonized and unskeletonized version. Special orders and unique designs are available on request.

Dragons in Mokume Gane
The dragon, like so many other mythological creatures, has become an integral part of the cultural mythology belonging to the entire globe, from the Sea of China to the Atlantic Ocean. Typically each culture imbues him with different powers and attributes, such as the power of sharp vision, the ability to breathe out fire, or extreme longevity. Notable is the fact that many cultures agree in claiming the dragon to be the first inhabitant of the universe, a primordial and universal creation as well as a protector guardian of treasures and the secret of immortality. Able to produce lightning and rain, he is a harbinger of fertility. But the true powers of heaven could only be released after the shedding of its blood or its death- as most dragons are not of the immortal kind.

Not only does the dragon have innumerable attributes, he also is manifested in dozens of different physical varieties such as dragons of the air, water or land; in two legged or four legged varieties with or without wings, or possessing scales of precious metal. As a material, Mokume Gane lends itself perfectly for the engraving of dragons and other mythological creatures. Each piece of Mokume is a unique phantasmagoria of swirling metals joined together in the heat of the oven, a fiery birth not unlike that of a dragon itself. Kees Engelbarts “I allow the Mokume itself to dictate the final embodiment of the dragon’s appearance. Whether it will breathe fire, or open its mouth wide, whether it will curl its body back and forth several times or just twice; the Mokume holds these secrets within its layers of color and movement.”

Technical information of some unique watch models from Mokume Gane Dragon Collection is Given below.

Mokume Gane Dragon Ref. 0267
Case: Solid Platinum, Curved Sapphire Crystal, Transparent Case Back with Sapphire Crystal
Movement: Skeletonized and Engraved by Hand, Automatic Winding,18.000 Bph, 35 Jewels, 48 Hours Power Reserve, Rotor Mokume Gane Decorated
Dial: Dragon Motif, Mokume Gane (White Gold, Silver), Engraved and Finished by Hand
Strap: Crocodile Leather,Platinum Buckle
Price: On Request

Mokume Gane Dragon Ref. 0367
Case: Solid 18 Kt White Gold, Curved Sapphire Crystal, Transparent Case Back with Sapphire Crystal
Movement: Automatic Winding, Mini Rotor, 19.800 Bph, Mokume Gane Decorated, 25 Jewels, 46 Hours Power Reserve
Dial: Dragon Motif, Mokume Gane (White Gold · Silver), Engraved and Finished by Hand
Strap: Crocodile Leather, 18 Kt White Gold Buckle
Price: On Request

Mokume Gane Dragon Ref. 0368
Case: Solid 18 Kt Yellow Gold,Curved Sapphire Crystal,Transparent Case Back with Sapphire Crystal
Movement: Automatic Winding, Mini Rotor, Skeletonized by Hand,19.800 Bph, Mokume Gane Decorated, 25 Jewels, 46 Hours Power Reserve
Dial: Dragon Motif, Mokume Gane (Yellow Gold, Silver), Skeletonized, Engraved and Finished by Hand
Strap: Crocodile Leather,18 Kt Yellow Gold Buckle
Price: On Request

Mokume Gane Dragon Ref. 0369
Case: Solid 18 Kt Rose Gold,Curved Sapphire Crystal,Transparent Case Back with Sapphire Crystal
Movement: Automatic Winding, Mini Rotor, 19.800 Bph, Mokume Gane Decorated, 25 Jewels, 46 Hours Power Reserve
Dial: Dragon Motif, Mokume Gane (Rose Gold, Shakudo), Engraved and Finished by Hand
Strap: Crocodile Leather ,18 Kt Rose Gold Buckle
Price: On Request

Mokume Gane Dragon Ref. 0370
Case: Solid 18 Kt White Gold, Curved Sapphire Crystal, Transparent Case Back with Sapphire Crystal
Movement: Automatic Winding, Mini Rotor,19.800 Bph, Mokume Gane Decorated, 25 Jewels, 46 Hours Power Reserve
Dial: Dragon Motif, Mokume Gane (Yellow Gold, Silver), Engraved and Finished by Hand
Strap: Crocodile Leather, 18 Kt White Gold Buckle
Price: On Request

Mokume Gane Dragon Ref. 0371
Case: Solid 18 Kt Rose Gold, Curved Sapphire Crystal, Transparent Case Back with Sapphire Crystal
Movement: Automatic Winding, Mini Rotor, 19.800 Bph, Mokume Gane Decorated, 25 Jewels, 46 Hours Power Reserve
Dial: Dragon Motif, Mokume Gane (Rose Gold, Shakudo),Engraved and Finished by Hand
Strap: Crocodile Leather,18 Kt Rose Gold Buckle
Price: On Request

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