Côtes de Genève (pronounced “KOTE duh je NEV”) is one of the most beautiful watch movement decorations in today’s time (other names for this striped finish include Vagues de Genève, Geneva stripes, Geneva waves, Glashütte stripes, and damaskeening). While it used to be much rarer, nowadays Côtes de Genève are found on many watch movements, including some quartz movements as well. In fact, both of my watches, the Tag Heuer Aquaracer (even though the back is closed) and the Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Cinq Aiguilles contain movements with this decoration, and it was one of the first things I noticed when I bought the latter. Hopefully through this short post, you’ll learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Côtes de Genève.
Specifically, Côtes de Genève is a pattern of systematic scratches traced on the smooth surfaces of watch movements. At first glance, these scratches resembles stripes, but upon further inspection, the lines are made by intricately engraving tiny, angled scratches in a systematic manner onto the metal. This actual inscription process is done after each metal part is polished, sandblasted, and plated with gold, rhodium, or some other material, so it’s one of the last steps in decorating a watch movement part. Each component is placed under a lathe machine in a parallel motion, and the machine has a head that traces a finely brushed motif. It’s worthwhile to note that at the haute horology level, these inscriptions are sometimes done by hand.
In terms of quality, machine-made Côtes de Genève don’t necessarily have to be worse; it depends more on the tiny details in how the decoration is made. For example, to the naked eye, two movements’ Côtes de Genève can look very similar, but when inspected with a loupe, the high end movements show additional decorations inside the Côtes de Genève, such as perlage (small circles) and anglage (bevelling/chamfering); it’s these details that can make a watch worth multiples more than others.
Côtes de Genève has been around since the late 19th or early 20th century, and most evidence (especially its name) point its birthplace to Geneva, Switzerland. It was popular for many reasons, but the desirable combination of ease of consistent production (see above) and appealing beauty was the primary rationale that made it nearly ubiquitous on high end watch movements. Beyond that, however, there is an interesting piece of history with the Côtes de Genève that involves a more practical side of the decoration.
Since watch movements are intricate engineering marvels, any dust, dirt, and grime entering them could interfere with the jewels or pivots. Enter the Côtes de Genève. These “scratches” on various parts of a watch movement would capture the particles rather than allow them to enter into the more delicate parts of the watch. When watch movements are sealed at the end of its production, an “atmosphere” is captured inside the watch, and whatever microparticles in this atmosphere that come in contact with the movement is captured in the Côtes de Genève. In fact, German watchmakers witnessed firsthand the usefulness of the Côtes de Genève and adopted them as well during this time, originating the name “Glashütte stripes.”
Lastly, I want to show a few examples of various types of Côtes de Genève in watches (in addition to the pictures above). Despite the various types and qualities in these picture, the one thing they all have in common is how the tiny scratches in the decoration catch and reflect the light to give the part a sense of depth in the bands.