Af­fairs of the Art

Blancpain con­tin­ues to dis­play its ex­per­tise in métiers d’art with ex­ten­sions to its col­lec­tion of shakudō time­pieces, writes nur syahzanani

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

the re­cent years have seen tra­di­tional métiers d’art go­ing through a re­nais­sance within the Swiss watch in­dus­try. While con­ven­tional tech­niques such as enam­elling and en­grav­ing re­main highly prized, watch­mak­ers have also started ex­pand­ing their reper­toires by look­ing to the past and re­viv­ing var­i­ous dec­o­ra­tive meth­ods for use in its pieces. These range from the an­cient (like lac­quer work, which has been in ex­is­tence since 5,000BC) to the ob­scure (such as the use of shakudō em­bel­lish­ment).

First in­tro­duced to the world of haute hor­logerie by Blancpain in 2015 (in its Villeret Cad­ran Shakudō col­lec­tion), the lat­ter is a spe­cial al­loy that is prin­ci­pally com­posed of cop­per and about four to 10 per­cent gold. A his­toric Ja­panese tech­nique of or­na­men­ta­tion, Shakudō is tra­di­tion­ally used in Ja­pan to dec­o­rate katana (longsword) fit­tings such as the tsuba (a sword’s hand guard that sep­a­rates the hilt

and the blade) and menuki (or­na­men­tal de­signs that are found on the hilt). It presents a dark patina that ranges be­tween blue and black, de­pend­ing on the vari­a­tion in its com­po­si­tion and tex­ture. This patina is achieved through a process called pas­si­va­tion, where a so­lu­tion (known as rokushō) com­posed of cop­per ac­etate is ap­plied to the al­loy un­til the de­sired hue is achieved. It should be noted that this process does not pro­duce a coat­ing on the shakudō but in­stead trans­forms the colour of the al­loy.

In Blancpain’s Villeret Cad­ran Shakudō se­ries, shakudō and gold are used as in­lays for the watch’s dam­a­scened dial (a craft tech­nique of Chi­nese ori­gin that in­volves the hand­chis­elling of troughs on the piece’s sur­face be­fore ham­mer­ing in rolls of gold or sil­ver into these troughs and pol­ish­ing it flat). Here, the rich patina of shakudō serves as a vis­ual con­trast against the other el­e­ments pre­sented on the watch’s dial and en­sures that the fine and in­tri­cate de­tails of the en­grav­ing are not lost within its land­scape. This is dis­played in the Villeret Cad­ran Shakudō Ganesh time­piece (the head­liner within the range), which show­cases an im­age of the Hindu god Ganesh on its dial. Known as the de­ity of wis­dom and in­tel­li­gence who con­quers ob­sta­cles, he is por­trayed with the head of an ele­phant and mul­ti­ple arms as per most de­pic­tions of him in Hin­duism. The Villeret Cad­ran Shakudō also comes in three other vari­ants, each with a dif­fer­ent ap­plique on its face: The rare and elu­sive Coela­canth (a deepsea fish); a gryphon (the le­gendary ea­gle-lion hy­brid crea­ture); and a bon­sai. All four unique 45-mm time­pieces are equipped with the brand’s in-house man­u­ally wound cal­i­bre 15B.

This year, Blancpain takes its ex­per­tise in work­ing with shakudō to a new level with the in­tro­duc­tion of The Great Wave. In­spired by renowned Ja­panese artist Hoku­sai’s fa­mous wood­block print The Great Wave off Kana­gawa, the piece presents a wave ap­plique in white gold. Af­fixed to a shakudō base, the ap­plique is im­mersed in a bath of rokushō salts to at­tain a patina. Once the white gold at­tains its de­sired patina, the shakudō is re­moved. To en­hance the ap­pear­ance of the bil­low­ing wave mo­tif, cer­tain parts of the white gold ap­plique are then fur­ther pol­ished be­fore be­ing af­fixed to a disc of Mex­i­can sil­ver ob­sid­ian (used by Blancpain in its watches for the first time) that serves as the base of the dial. Part of the man­u­fac­ture’s Villeret col­lec­tion, The Great Wave is equipped with the 13R3A move­ment that pro­vides an im­pres­sive power re­serve of eight days thanks to three se­ries-cou­pled main­spring bar­rels.

Since the 15th cen­tury, be­fore the bal­ance wheel was cre­ated and time­keep­ing lacked ac­cu­racy, ex­quis­ite artis­tic tech­niques were used to dec­o­rate watches as a means of in­creas­ing their per­ceived value. To­day, métiers d’art con­tinue to flour­ish and are now recog­nised as a means to demon­strate a watch­maker’s savoir-faire rather than a form of rec­om­pense for me­chan­i­cal flaws.

an ar­ti­san cre­at­ing the villeret cad­ran shakudō ganesh dial

from top: villeret the great Wave; the cal­i­bre 13r3a

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