AskDefine | Define guilloche

Dictionary Definition

guilloche n : an architectural decoration formed by two intersecting wavy bands

User Contributed Dictionary



From guilloche#French.




  1. A fine engraving pattern of spirals, intertwining bands, etc.; or the tool used to create such work.
    • 2006, Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Vintage 2007, p. 1015:
      A railroad right-of-way, straight across the Balkan Peninsula, conceded in Cyrillic and Arabic script all woven in and out of the loveliest green guilloche by the no-longer-quite-unabsorbed entity of East Roumelia.

Extensive Definition

Guilloché is an engraving technique in which a very precise intricate repetitive patterns or design is mechanically etched into an underlying material with very fine detail. Specifically, it involves a technique of engine turning, called guilloché in French after the French engineer “Guillot”, who invented a machine “that could scratch fine patterns and designs on metallic surfaces”. The machine improved upon the more time-consuming practice of making similar designs by hand, allowing for greater delicacy, precision, and closeness of the line, as well as greater speed.
Another account gives the credit of inventing this method to one Hans Schwanhardt (- 1621) and the spreading of it, to his son-in-law Jacob Heppner (1645).
Yet another account is that it derives from the French word for an engraving tool, not the engine turning machine.
Guilloche(gu-chi-il), usually spelled without the acute accent (accent aigu) on the final e (and more often anglicized in English pronunciation as 'gi-'lOsh'), describes a repetitive architectural pattern widely used in classical Greece and Rome, consisting of two ribbons that wind around a series of regular central points. These central points are often blank, but may contain a figure, such as a rose. Guilloche is a back-formation from guilloché, so called because the architectural motif resembles the designs produced by Guilloche techniques.


Engine turning machines were first used in the 1500–1600’s on soft materials like ivory and wood and in the 1700’s it was adopted for metal such as gold and silver.
The last machines were manufactured around 1948–1949.
In the 1920s and '30s, automobile parts such as valve covers, which are right on top of the engine, were also engine-turned. Similarly, dashboards or the instrument panel of the same were often engine-turned. Customizers also would decorate their vehicles with by engine-turning panels similarly.
In modern English, the word guilloche is used to describe a narrow instance of guilloche: a design, frequently architectural, using two curved bands that interlace in a pattern around a central space. Some dictionaries give only this definition of guilloche, although others include the broader meaning associated with guilloché as a second meaning. Note that in the original sense, even a straight line can be guilloché, and persons using the French spelling and pronunciation generally intend the broader, original meaning.
The term Enamel - Guilloché , meaning simply guilloché, is a back-formation that many be considered incorrect by some scholars. Although Enamel and Guilloché is a very popular and a strong enhancing pairing-first applied by Peter Carl Fabergé on the Faberge eggs in the 1880’s-they are nevertheless two separate techniques and were not applied to one another until Fabergé.

In today’s terminology

In consequence of the nature of the design, which is - usually - a series of lines that are, or look very much like they are interwoven into one another, any design engraved on metal, printed, or otherwise erected on surfaces such as wood, or stone, that go in a similar style of constant wriggling that interlock - or look like they are interlocking - with one another is referred to as guilloché.
Some of the more common one’s are the following:
  • Engraved (in metal, mainly sterling): in expensive timepieces (mainly pocket watches), expensive pens, jewelry charms, snuffboxes, hair-styling accessories, wine goblets etc. Examples of famous works of Guilloché are the engravings on Faberge eggs and on the nose of the Spirit of St. Louis.
  • Erected: on stone for architecture, in wood for styling, on furniture or molding, etc.
  • Printed: on bank notes, currency or certificates, etc., to protect against forged copies. The pattern used in this instance is called a spirograph in mathematics, that is, a hypotrochoid generated by a fixed point on a circle rolling inside a fixed circle. It has parametric equations. These patterns bear a strong resemblance to the designs produced on the Spirograph, a children's toy.
  • In tiling: as a mosaic work such as those produced by the Cosmati family.

Other names for Guilloché

The engine turning machine characteristic of Guilloché is called by other names in specific uses:
The different types of the machines refer to different models and different times during the development of the engine-turning machine.


External links

guilloche in German: Guilloche
guilloche in French: Guillochis
guilloche in Russian: Гильош
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