In a brilliant showcase of its mastery of the métiers d’art, Jaquet Droz’s set of three limited-edition timepieces features the ancient art of paillonné enamel on its dials.
of watches propose a conservative colour palette. This is perhaps because the timepiece has to suit numerous outfits, styles and occasions. Therefore it makes commercial sense for brands to craft watches that are as flexible and versatile as possible. Nonetheless, some companies fly in the face of this trend.
Take for example Swiss watchmaker Jaquet Droz, which creates exceptional dial work showcasing hand-painting and enamelling. The latest trio of watches to be released from its Ateliers d’Art collections illustrates amazingly rich and textured dials that show off the paillonné enamel technique. They allow the brand to reconnect with its illustrious past, where the best of watchmaking unites with the best of the decorative arts.
The important artistic craft of paillonné enamel is in fact a centuries-old tradition at Jaquet Droz, which works to perpetuate the legacy of company founder, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, who lived in the 18th century. Born in 1721 in the Swiss Jura, he became one of the most sought-after watchmakers of the Age of Enlightenment, whose clocks, singing bird watches, objets d’art and incredibly-realistic humanoid automata delighted and astonished the royal courts of Europe. The Jaquet-Droz family also contributed to establishing a factory-school in Geneva, manufacturing repeater watch dials, developing horological technology and supporting watchmaking-related crafts, which helped an entire generation of craftsmen to earn a living. Jaquet Droz soon developed a reputation for its cases enamelled with spangles, painting on enamel, carving and engraving gracing its creations including pocket watches, urns, snuffboxes and birdcages, which played a significant part in its success.
At that time, artists and artisans of high-end objects frequently covered the surfaces of their works of art with a high concentration of artistic ornamentation including miniature painting, engraving, guilloché and other forms of decoration. Timepieces made during Jaquet-Droz’s life-
The great majority
time would often feature cases and dials adorned with lively designs and hand-applied patterns. Christian Lattmann, Vice-President of Jaquet Droz, says, “Paillonné enamelling is part of the DNA of Jaquet Droz. It was very common in the 18th century when watches were used more as pomp.” As a pioneer of luxury decoration, the brand was among the first to work with this technique and elevated it into an art form, which today is very rare.
Paillonné enamelling itself originally developed in the 18th century. The complicated craft consists of placing a piece of foil between two layers of enamel, in other words covering ornamental paillons (tiny motifs or paillettes hand-cut from gold or silver leaf) with translucent enamel fondant on an enamel base – a decorative technique that Jaquet Droz’s craftsmen have perfected over the past 276 years. Because of the enamel’s transparency, the technique adds brilliance and luminosity to a dial.
A Rare Art
Since Jaquet Droz’s rebirth in 2000 thanks to its acquisition by the Swatch Group (which lends its expertise, technical resources, production system and international distribution network to the brand), it has consistently launched various limited-edition series of just eight pieces featuring high-quality paillonné enamel dials using a technique that combines gold setting and grand feu enamel to produce an aesthetic resembling wallpaper, delivering a result that’s at once incredibly opulent and imbued with a sense of depth not seen in standard enamel painting. This year, its set of three models in a strictly limited run of eight pieces each – two wristwatches and one pocket watch – is no exception, paying tribute to an art that has survived over the past three centuries and proving that beauty forged by the human hand transcends time.
In creating the paillonné enamel timepieces for 2014, the brand experimented with new techniques in its in-house atelier in a long-term quest to relearn many of the disappearing decorative crafts once used abundantly by JaquetDroz and his contemporaries. On these watches, gold paillons are baked into the grand feu enamel dial, to great visual artistry. The timepieces are a reflection of the
found in the Jaquet Droz artisan workshops. In 2011, it had moved its Ateliers d’Art workshop into new 2,500-sqm Fine Watchmaking workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The aim here is to integrate and safeguard the centuries of knowledge and skills that symbolise the brand’s identity, where miniature painting, carving, engraving and paillonné enamel are highlighted in certain exceptional pieces. It has even revived traditional crafts that were vanishing, illustrated by its spangled and black grand feu enamel dials.
The métiers d’art is a sector that the brand will continue to promote and that is set to be an important element in its future growth. Lattmann remarks, “Our craftsmen have a real mix of different backgrounds. It’s a very young team with painters, sculptors and engravers. They are the heart of Jaquet Droz along with our watchmakers.”
The manufacturing process begins with a solid gold dial machined with a guilloché pattern. Then, to create the blue enamelled surface, the dial is fired several times in a furnace at temperatures that sometimes reach 1,000° C. Lattmann discloses, “It’s a very long process to get a perfect blue dial. Once a piece is finished, it is inalterable. The enamel will retain its beauty and gloss for centuries, withstanding the ravages