Be­yond Mere Fine Watches

Métiers d’art el­e­vates watch­mak­ing be­yond me­chan­i­cal won­ders into the realm of ethe­real beauty

DA MAN - Caliber - - CONTENTS - Slim d’Her­mès Koma Kurabé Op­po­site page Vacheron Con­stantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers

Just about ev­ery as­pect of watch­mak­ing, from dial assem­bly to the fash­ion­ing of fab­ric straps and the fin­ish­ing of move­ment com­po­nents, can be con­sid­ered forms of art in their own right. The term “métiers d’art,” how­ever, sug­gests some­thing a bit more spe­cial. Re­fined. Or per­haps “el­e­vated” is the right de­scrip­tor here. And, for sure, the phrase is thrown around quite of­ten when­ever par­tic­u­larly artsy time­pieces are con­cerned.

Arts And CrAfts

Now, it might be a bit hard to for­mu­late an ex­act def­i­ni­tion or even a trans­la­tion of métiers d’art; but in the world of watch­mak­ing, the term has come to re­fer to cen­turies’ old art forms em­ployed to cre­ate ex­cep­tion­ally artis­tic time­pieces. And for a time, this el­e­ment has been miss­ing from the in­dus­try. Vacheron Con­stantin, one part of the so-called “holy trin­ity of watch brands” to­gether with Aude­mars Piguet and Patek Philippe—has been cred­ited with the rein­tro­duc­tion of métiers d’art back in 2007.

That year, Vacheron Con­stantin de­buted its Les Masques se­ries. The cre­ation of these watches in­volved the recre­ation of var­i­ous tex­tures—wood, stone and other ma­te­ri­als found in old masks—on gold plates. While the ba­sic forms where cre­ated us­ing laser en­grav­ing, the more del­i­cate fea­tures of each mask de­sign are en­graved by hand.

This re­dis­cov­ery of—and re­newed in­ter­est in—dec­o­ra­tive crafts cat­e­go­rized as métiers d’art has of­ten been de­scribed as part of the nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of watch­mak­ing. Just as how me­chan­i­cal watch­mak­ing made a come­back in the ’90s af­ter the quartz cri­sis, the age-old tra­di­tional dec­o­ra­tive crafts that used to be part of fine watch­mak­ing have steadily risen in pop­u­lar­ity since the late 2000s. And for sure, his­tor­i­cally speak­ing haute hor­logerie (high watch­mak­ing) have al­ways gone hand in hand with belle hor­logerie (beau­ti­ful watch­mak­ing). As the for­mer has sur­vived its ul­ti­mate chal­lenge in the ’80s, now the lat­ter has come to the front once again.

An ElitE fEw

The ob­vi­ous ap­peal of métiers d’art watches is ex­clu­siv­ity. The dec­o­ra­tive arts in this cat­e­gory were only rather re­cently “re­dis­cov­ered” in part be­cause of how rare its prac­ti­tion­ers are, es­pe­cially those that can ap­ply their ex­per­tise on a “can­vas” that might mea­sure—at most— four cen­time­ters across. Take, for ex­am­ple, the wood mar­quetry di­als that are part of Patek Philippe’s Rare Hand­crafts col­lec­tion. Each dial is ba­si­cally a puz­zle made up of tiny wooden pieces, some mea­sur­ing only a cou­ple of mil­lime­ters, which are cut by hand by a master mar­que­tar­ian. There are plenty of ex­pert ar­ti­sans work­ing with wood mar­quetry. But, by the mid­dle of 2017 at least, there was only one who could work on di­als.

Many of these old crafts are also ter­ri­bly un­for­giv­ing ... and are much more so when ap­plied to watch­mak­ing. An enam­eled dial, for in­stance, would be heated mul­ti­ple times, and ev­ery time it goes into the kiln there’s a chance that the sur­face will sim­ply crack. Imag­ine that hap­pen­ing in the se­cond to last cy­cle. Or per­haps specks of dust are caught in the pig­ment even be­fore the dial is heated. Sure, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy can land a hand here in there—like in the Las Masques by

“MAny of thEsE old CrAfts ArE Also tEr­ri­bly un­for­giv­ing ... And ArE MuCh MorE so whEn Ap­pliEd to wAtCh­MAk­ing”

Vacheron Con­stantin men­tioned above—but the defin­ing el­e­ments of each craft are still done the old-fash­ioned way.

What’s im­por­tant to con­sider here is that it’s not only a mat­ter of tech­nol­ogy not be­ing able to repli­cate age old crafts. It’s also what the con­sumer wants. Clas­sic aes­thet­ics is a strong trend and the ex­clu­siv­ity that re­sults from the dif­fi­culty of cre­at­ing time­pieces with enamel di­als, minia­ture paint­ings or hand-en­graved de­tail­ing and tra­di­tional mar­quetry has strong pulling power. See, when we’re talk­ing about métiers d’art time­pieces, the term “lim­ited edi­tion” can be an un­der­state­ment. More of­ten than not, a métiers d’art watch would be one-of-a-kind or re­leased in quan­ti­ties fewer than a dozen.

thE fu­turE of MétiErs d’Art

There is, of course, the very real prob­lem of “métiers d’art” be­com­ing an overused buzz­word. In some quar­ters it is ar­gued that this has al­ready hap­pened with the word “man­u­fac­ture.” On the flip side, as more and more brands delve into métiers d’art, more tech­niques and de­signs will emerge, thereby el­e­vat­ing the en­tire craft—just like how we can never have too many painters.

The way Patek Philippe uses wood mar­quetry for di­als, as men­tioned above, can be con­sid­ered a new ad­di­tion to the métiers d’art world. Or per­haps con­sider Harry Win­ston’s Mid­night Feath­ers, which fea­tures mar­quetry us­ing ac­tual feath­ers—goose feath­ers, to be ex­act—that form in­tri­cate strip­ing rem­i­nis­cent of wood.

So, in a way, métiers d’art watch­mak­ing does more than just el­e­vate fine watch­mak­ing, but also help pre­serve a myr­iad of rare hand­crafts and art forms that would have other­wise been lost to time.

All that be­ing said, to truly show­case the width and breadth of métiers d’art in watch­mak­ing, per­haps we could delve into some of its most cel­e­brated ex­am­ples from the past sev­eral years.

thE Mir­A­ClE of flight

Vacheron Con­stantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers This par­tic­u­lar métiers d’art col­lec­tion cel­e­brates France’s first foray into avi­a­tion around 1783-1785 us­ing hot-air bal­loons. Each of the five lim­ited edi­tion time­pieces (yes, only five, each with a unique col­ors) fea­ture a com­bi­na­tion of hand-en­graved and mi­cro-sculpted gold fig­ures on top of a translu­cent plique-à-jour enamel back­ground. It should be noted that pliqué-a-jour enam­el­ing is con­sid­ered an es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult tech­nique, as there is no sup­port­ing ma­te­rial be­hind each in­di­vid­ual layer. The back­grounds come in sky blue, dark blue, turquoise, brown and bur­gundy

At CAMElot

As the name im­plies, this is not the first time that Roger Dubuis—a sur­pris­ingly anti-con­form­ist brand from the usu­ally con­ser­va­tive Richemont group—has delved into Arthurian leg­end. Nor is it the last, al­though it can be ar­gued that this is the most clas­si­cal look­ing. Any­way, the Ex­cal­ibur Knights of the Round Ta­ble II fea­tures the 12 epony­mous knights as en­graved and sculpted bronze knights po­si­tioned around the famed round ta­ble made from black jade. Each knight is only 6.5mm tall and each is unique. Roger Dubuis Ex­cal­ibur Knights of the Round Ta­ble II

“whEn wE’rE tAlk­ing About MétiErs d’Art tiME­piECEs, thE tErM ‘liM­itEd Edi­tion’ CAn bE An un­dEr­stAtE­MEnt. MorE of­tEn thAn not, A MétiErs d’Art wAtCh would bE onE-of-A-kind or rE­lEAsEd in quAn­ti­tiEs fEwEr thAn A dozEn”

EAst MEEts wEst

Slim d’Her­mès Koma Kurabé France so­phis­ti­ca­tion meets Ja­pa­nese old-age tra­di­tion in the Slim d’Her­mès Koma Kurabé. This is ac­tu­ally a se­ries of 12 one-of-a-kind watches de­pict­ing scenes from the Koma Kurabé, a fa­mous horse race held an­nu­ally at the Kamig­amo shrine in Ky­oto. The jour­ney of each watch starts in the ate­liers of Sèvres, a ma­jor cen­tre of porce­lain mak­ing in Europe. The fin­ished porce­lain then be­comes a se­ries of can­vases for Buzan Fukushima, one of the few re­main­ing ar­ti­sans versed in the aka-e tech­nique of paint­ing. Un­der the hands of the master, shades of red and ochre are deftly ap­plied to the porce­lain to cre­ate depic­tions of the famed race be­fore it is all coated with a fine layer of gold. The dial is then heated three times to fix the mo­tif.

As swiss As it gEts

Patek Philippe Ref. 5089G-059 and Ref. 5089G-060 Yes, these two lim­ited-edi­tion Cala­trava watches are part of Patek Philippe’s Rare Hand­craft col­lec­tion men­tioned be­fore. Now, these aren’t the only wood mar­quetry di­als cre­ated by the house, nor are they the most well-known; but the theme of these two are cer­tainly quite ap­pro­pri­ate—a leg­endary Swiss watch brand show­cas­ing the leg­endary Swiss Alpine land­scape—while demon­strat­ing just how in­tri­cate these creations can be. Ref­er­ence 5089G-059 is ti­tled “Roped Alpin­ists” and shows two moun­taineers climb­ing a snowy slope. It (yes, this a one-of-a-kind watch) is com­prised of 262 pieces of wood taken from 27 dif­fer­ent species with dif­fer­ent col­ors, tex­tures and vein­ing. Ref­er­ence 5089G-060, mean­while, fea­tures the “Lac d’Emos­son”, af­ter a paint­ing by French ge­ol­o­gist and Alpine spe­cial­ist Jac­ques De­bel­mas. It con­sists of 195 pieces from 22 species.

thE thronE of wis­doM

Blanc­pain and les Métiers d’Art, Shaku­dō Blanc­pain is a master when it comes to en­grav­ing, enamel paint­ing and Da­m­a­scene time­pieces. For its métiers d’art watches, how­ever, the brand pre­sents its mas­tery of shaku­dō, which in­volves the use of an al­loy of Ja­pa­nese ori­gin that com­bines cop­per and gold to cre­ate a patina that hov­ers be­tween blue and black. While of­ten seen on swords and jew­elry, shaku­dō is rarely seen in the world of watch­mak­ing. Blanc­pain, how­ever, has re­leased four unique mod­els com­bin­ing shaku­dō, en­grav­ing and Da­m­a­scen­ing. For the Ref. 6615-3616-55B, the brand has cho­sen to de­pict Ganesh, the Hindu god of wis­dom, in­tel­li­gence, pru­dence and the leader of the schools and aca­demics. Here the de­ity is seen on a hand-en­graved golden throne for a most ma­jes­tic sight.


Pliqué-a-jour at Vacheron Con­stantin Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top Close up of one of the mini sculp­tuores on Roger Dubuis Ex­cal­ibur Knights of the Round Ta­ble II; aka-e paint­ing on the porce­lain dial Slim d’Her­mès Koma Kurabé; hand en­grav­ing for the Les Aérostiers watches

Blanc­pain and les Métiers d’Art, Shakudo Op­po­site page Patek Philippe’s Ref­er­ence 5089G-060 “Lac d’Emos­son”

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