Marvellous craftsmanship crystallises time into a school of art.
SIHH is no simple exhibition of fine timepieces; it’s also the stage for watch masters to present their craftsmanship in creating the art of timekeeping, be it about romanticism, or aesthetic value.
CAMEO & THE BALLOON
When it comes to the most artistic works at the exhibition, Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection is in a league of its own. On the watchcase there is an image of the first hot air balloon in the world, which was designed and driven by Étienne de Montgolfier.
Speaking of hot air balloons, they were the most realistic approach to air travel before the Wright Brothers’ invention of the aeroplane. The maiden balloon flight by the Montgolfier Brothers took place on 21st November 1783. Later, after Jules Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) published his A Voyage in a Balloon on 31st January, 1863, the then-primitive flight machine had already become many people’s dream vehicle to the sky.
In order to visualise the past aviation dream, craftsmen adopted cameo, which was popularised in the Renaissance era, to create the hot air balloon on the watch.
Each hot air balloon requires up to three weeks of craftsmanship in order to reproduce the entire range of subtle feature and ornamental details of the original works. The dials thus compose authentic miniature scenes graced with an extraordinary variety of motifs. The pounced ornament technique consists of removing material so as to fashion relief effects. This irreversible operation calls for an impeccably deft touch. The master engraver first traces the volumes using a dry point technique, before sculpting the precious mass, which creates a particularly delicate rounded effect. This stage serves to carve out the curves of the balloon and the basket, as well as the lines of the ropes. The burins are repeatedly sharpened so as to achieve extreme precision. The level of finishing becomes ever more sophisticated, all the way through to the smallest details of the human figures, animals, and the meticulous decoration of the balloons.
On the dials of the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection, a translucent background in sky blue, dark blue, turquoise, brown or burgundy, evoke a spirit of airy transparency. Vacheron Constantin is, for the first time, calling upon this skill mastered by very few enamellers. Its layout is reminiscent of cloisonné enamelling; while the absence of a base recalls a miniature stained-glass window. The balance between the various shades is extremely subtle, as is the polishing of the partitions between them.
MICRO-CARVING & SEMI-PRECIOUS STONES
Wristwatches with gems are not rare. However, Piaget brought the virtuoso skills of stone marquetry to this year’s SIHH. The Altiplano welcomes a tourbillon and invites malachite and lapis lazuli to adorn its dial.
Different from the crystal nature of rare gems like diamonds, malachite and lapis lazuli are dense and rich in colour, and they vary in details due to variations of environment, which happen to give more ground for creativity.
These two precious pieces were created by “Maître d’Art” Hervé Obligi. His expertise in gem art has earned him the title of “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant”. In his eyes, gems are
the most charming things on earth, “I love all stones; their hardness, their fragility, their resistance; their extraordinary relationship with the colour and the idea of lasting continuity that wood cannot satisfy. Stone tolerates no mistakes and is more likely to make others bend than break itself. The high demands it imposes naturally inspire humility.”
The miniature stone marquetry technique represents a real challenge and calls for great mastery. Crafting such a dial comprises four crucial stages and requires between two and three weeks of work.
Everything begins with a rough stone from which blocks are cut into extremely fine slices barely 1mm thick, compared with 3 to 4mm for traditional marquetry. Once cut, the stones are polished so as to precisely determine the tone and colour of the stone, given that reducing thickness also reduces the intensity of the colour. The choice of stones is thus essential.
The contour of each element is precisely traced on the stone by a pointed brass tool. The plate is cut into extremely thin strips using a tiny bow saw composed of a hazel tree branch and an abrasive-coated steel wire. Once cut out, the elements are adjusted and assembled with neighbouring components. The facing thus composed is affixed to a smooth red or white gold surface before heat gluing the joints by filing the empty space between the bevelled edges with pine resin.
Besides, this series is equipped with tourbillon, and the technologies featured within are also the most advanced.
PAINTING & THE FAIRY-TALE
Van Cleef & Arpels take pride in their “Mystery Setting” technique, far earlier than Tiffany’s “Six Claw Round Diamond Solitaire”. Moreover, on this year’s SIHH, Van Cleef & Arpels showed off the micro-painting technique, combined by enamel, carving, and inlay. Take a look at the Lady Arpels Nuit Féerique, you won’t miss the romantic poetry narrated under the moonlight. The curvy surface went through precise carvings and inlaid with diamonds and sapphires, glistening with sparkles, as if attracting the fairies to pay their curious visits.
The extraordinarily colourful scene needs more than one technique to realise, for sure. On this piece, you will find the starry sky is created through aventurine, the fairy’s dress is made of carved gold and micro painting, while the diamonds portray the flying meteor. In order to create the fluffy clouds, Van Cleef & Arpels’ craftsman adopted onyx, a glossy and gentle material to contrast with the blue, pink and purple sapphires on the dial. The background features a garden, which extends the romantic starry scene to a grander environment.
Lady Arpels Jour Féerique from the same series put a carved sun figure as the foreground with a curvy outline; meanwhile the yellow sapphires and garnets further enrich the tone of the scene. Gentle sunrays, however, are created through three different textures of gold. Calaites, pearls, enamel, and diamonds infuse the sky with either smoky or transparent hues of light, resulting in a delicate and contrasted effect of layers.
Whether it’s cameo or painting, these masterful techniques contribute to the creation of incredible arts. They are inherited through these precious and luxurious time machines, and gain commercial vitality as well.
根据原稿的图案选择绿松石Selecting the turquoise according to the original drawing
梵克雅宝作品上，仙子裙部的微绘Miniature painting on the fairy’s dress
伯爵表的装配过程中，组件模块放置于金质座盘上 The gem stone being assembled craftsmanship金质浮雕的工艺 Cameo
江诗丹顿艺术大师系列热气球腕表 Les Aérostiers of Métiers d’Art by Vacheron Constantin
根据原稿的图案选择蓝宝石 Selecting the sapphires according to the original drawing
在表壳背部手工雕刻云朵Hand engraving of a cloud on the back of the case
把沙金石打磨成云朵的形状Sculpting a cloud in aventurine