With a timepiece that took a pair of watchmaking’s most outstanding craftsmen two years to engrave, enamel and refine, Hermès has become the artistic force to be reckoned with.
Nature at Full Gallop – that was Hermès’ theme at this year’s Baselworld. There are many potentially great references one could spawn from that: the glorious flowers of the Amazonian rainforest; the colourful birds that soar above its trees; or even untamed horses – a source of inspiration so dear to the highly artistic Parisian house. But for Hermès’ most important creation at the Swiss fair, artistic director Philippe Delhotal looked instead to something far less literal, and that was the lifelike drawing of a tiger by late French artist Robert Dallet.
To take things to the next level, Delhotal knew that he couldn’t just have artisans engrave the tiger on a dial or paint one in enamel – that would prove too little of a challenge given Hermès’ unrivalled savoir-faire in the two artistic crafts. So, on the new Arceau Tigre, he combined the two, but not in an expected way. The décor of the watch’s dial is achieved using an ornate technique called émail ombrant (it translates to “shaded enamel” in English). It involves the use of a lithophane (a moulded artwork in thin porcelain), which reveals a 3-D image when translucent enamel collects in the sunken areas of a negative impression.
To take things to the next level, Delhotal knew that he couldn’t just have artisans engrave the tiger on a dial or paint one in enamel – that would prove too little of a challenge given Hermès’ unrivalled savoirfaire in the two artistic crafts.
When experts in different crafts work together on a single timepiece, synergy, of course, is crucial. But, in the case of the Arceau Tigre, there was no cause for concern for Delhotal, who teamed up with possibly the artistic circle’s most reputable double-act – Swiss master engraver Olivier Vaucher and his enameller wife Dominique – to develop the exceptional watch.
Adapting émail ombrant for a small, 41mm watch dial was no easy feat. It took artisans at the Olivier Vaucher SA atelier in Geneva two years to reproduce and refine Dallet’s original tiger drawing as a negative relief on a white gold base. This was then coated with a slightly-tinted translucent enamel to bring the image to life. When it accumulated in deeper spots, the enamel was denser and appeared darker, while the raised areas were barely covered and therefore remained very light in colour. To finish off the dial in the most realistic way possible, engravers also recreated the individual strands of hair that compose the tiger’s coat.