Johnny “King Nerd” Dowell brings the art of engraving back to the watch industry

Engraving – this term has a special meaning in watchmaking. It is one of the elements that go into the decoration of a watch. One can describe engraving as the manual process of drawing letters or figures aesthetically within an ornament or any other object. The goal of making an engraving is to embellish it or represent the distinctive signs of a mark on the movement, the case or the glass. The operation must not be a means to hide manufacturing defects and also should not prevent the proper functioning of the mechanism.

“The goal of making an engraving is to embellish it or represent the distinctive signs of a mark on the movement, the case or the glass”

This trend is resurfacing in the watchmaking industry as brands are looking to make their watches stand out as much as possible. One of the artists the sector is commissioning the most these days is Johnny “King Nerd” Dowell, a British artist specializing in the engraving of metals.

By trade, Dowell is a gun engraver, following in the footsteps of an uncle, a gun maker. He learned his engraving craft 14 years ago, a five-year learning period. Since then he has been plying his trade at one of Britain’s most prestigious gun engravers, later beginning to work on jewellery and, most recently, watches.

From Jaeger-LeCoultre to Panerai, Dowell has worked on several pieces, but his latest work is the Oktopus Crazy Universe that he customized for Linde Werdelin. For this project, the artist took an existing piece and added his touch to it. The case features several references to planets and space odysseys.

“As a child, I even dreamed of being an astronaut. Even though people are exploring space, there is such mystery contained within it wondering what else could be discovered. To create a space theme was an obvious extension of the watch’s moon phase complication, and it was a delight to discover that space was a passion for Johnny too”, explained Morten Linde.

The process, from design to engraving, took more than 100 hours, during which the hard Titanium Grade 5 outer case broke Dowell’s engraving tools.

“Working on Titanium Grade 5 was a great test for me; I doubt I will ever engrave a harder material in my life. My everyday tools snapped and shattered as soon as I even touched the titanium. I switched to tungsten carbide tools which were definitely better suited to the task, but even they were pushed to the limit”, said the engraver.