Ralph Lauren Resurrects Guilloché Machine for New Watch Line

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Why did God create hedge-funders? Maybe to provide a market for the luxury products needed to sustain endangered technologies and crafts. Behold the Guilloché machine, an amazing (and endangered) analogue pattern generator, recently revived by Ralph Lauren for a new line. Watch Time explains:

Lauren, a fan of guilloché decoration, selected a distinctive spiral barleycorn pattern for the dials and cases of his Slim Classique watches. The pattern has 80 waves woven in a series of compact spirals from the outer to the inner portion of the dial. The central intersections are so fine that they are invisible to the naked eye....

"Today in Switzerland only four guillocheurs can be found who are still fulltime practitioners of their craft," says Guy Châtillon, CEO of RLWJ in Geneva. Just who does Ralph Lauren's guilloché work is a trade secret.

Lauren did pay an evidently superlative photographer to document the machine, a work of art in its own right. This artist, too, is uncredited.

A sadder note: even the Swiss no longer are able to operate the related geometric lathes formerly used to engrave currency, like the 1890s series that was the high point of American paper money. According to a lecture I heard accompanying this recent Princeton University Library exhibition, none of the machines is still in use.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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