ARTIS­TIC METIERS

At Cartier’s Mai­son des Métiers d’Art, tra­di­tion and in­no­va­tion col­lide in the most en­rap­tur­ing and scin­til­lat­ing man­ner, learns candice chan

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Watches -

it’s not sur­pris­ing that Cartier should own one of the largest watch fac­to­ries in Switzer­land. As one of the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful lux­ury brands, its 33,000sqm Fine Watch­mak­ing Man­u­fac­ture is packed with state-of-the-art equip­ment and long assem­bly lines of au­to­mated ma­chin­ery churn­ing out com­po­nents like clock­work to meet gru­elling pro­duc­tion de­mands. But de­spite its high-tech façade, the hu­man touch is quin­tes­sen­tial in the mak­ing of a Cartier time­piece. Per­haps the most ex­em­plary of Cartier’s re­liance on hu­man in­ge­nu­ity can be found in its Mai­son des Métiers d’Art, lo­cated in a small 18th-cen­tury Ber­nese-style farm next to the Fine Watch­mak­ing Man­u­fac­ture.

Although much of the build­ing’s ex­te­rior has been kept in­tact, most of its in­te­ri­ors (aside from the roof and Bordeaux tiles) have been com­pletely re­designed to ac­com­mo­date two im­por­tant departments: High Watch­mak­ing and Metiers d’Art. It should be noted that Cartier is only one of a hand­ful of watch man­u­fac­tur­ers to boast an in-house team of artists; most brands en­gage and rely on ex­ter­nal in­de­pen­dent par­ties — also few and far be­tween — to work on their artis­tic watches.

In the Metiers d’Art work­shop, Cartier’s 30-strong team of ar­ti­sans breathe life into an­ces­tral crafts such as enamel (of which Cartier has mas­tered sev­eral tech­niques, such as minia­ture paint­ing, cloi­sonné, cham­plevé, gri­saille and plique-à-jour enam­elling), mar­quetry (stone, straw, flo­ral, gold leaf and wood), gem-set­ting and more un­usual art forms like gran­u­la­tion, flamed gold and fil­i­gree. These tra­di­tional meth­ods can­not be repli­cated by a ma­chine as they are the re­sult of a te­dious and com­pli­cated process that re­quires the ex­per­tise and in­tu­ition of a trained ar­ti­san.

Take the ex­am­ple of the evoca­tive Ro­tonde de Cartier watch from 2012 that proudly shows a tiger’s mien on the dial dec­o­rated us­ing the gri­saille enamel tech­nique. Re­quir­ing some 40 hours of man­ual work, each dial is first hand-painted with black enamel and baked in the oven be­fore the artist uses a nee­dle or brush to del­i­cately paint on coats of Li­mo­ges white enamel to at­tain the pre­cise nu­ances of white and grey tones. There is noth­ing sys­tem­atic about the process; in­stead, ev­ery move the artist makes is guided by his artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties and ex­pe­ri­ence gleaned over the years.

How­ever, to re­gard the Metiers d’Art work­shop merely as a place where such in­tri­cate crafts are per­pet­u­ated and per­fected is also not giv­ing it due credit. In­deed, Cartier has ex­plic­itly ex­pressed that the pur­pose of Mai­son des Métiers d’Art is not watch­mak­ing; in­stead, it is a hub for the preser­va­tion of age-old crafts as well as a test

bed for new artis­tic tech­niques: Some re­vived, oth­ers adapted from ex­ist­ing ones and a few en­tirely new de­vel­op­ments.

This year’s Révéla­tion d’Une Pan­thère launch, a mes­meris­ing watch that re­veals the out­line of a pan­ther’s face only when the watch is tilted for­ward, is an ex­am­ple of the kind of magic that hap­pens be­hind the closed doors of the Mai­son des Métiers d’Art. Fol­low­ing the pull of grav­ity are 900 tiny golden orbs that seem to be sus­pended in a vis­cous liq­uid, evenly mov­ing down the dial be­fore set­tling in place to re­veal the out­line of Cartier’s em­blem­atic pan­ther. Sec­onds later, as the golden orbs con­tinue to fall through like sand in an hour­glass to the bot­tom of the dial, the pan­ther dis­ap­pears, al­most like an ap­pari­tion.

Some five years in the mak­ing, the tech­nol­ogy be­hind this dis­ap­pear­ing act in­volves sev­eral patents, which Cartier re­mains tight-lipped about. What we know for cer­tain is how the lit­tle golden spheres are made — a process that the crafts­men in the Mai­son des Métiers d’Art have per­fected since Cartier de­buted the art of gold bead gran­u­la­tion to the watch­mak­ing world.

Gold bead gran­u­la­tion is an ex­am­ple of an artis­tic tech­nique brought back from ob­scu­rity thanks to Cartier. Found in Etr­uscan art from as early as 300BC, it is a lost jew­eller’s craft that was in­tro­duced to the Cartier work­shop in 2013, with the help of ex­perts from the Lou­vre Mu­seum. This is not a job for the faint-hearted: The de­mand­ing tech­nique re­quires the pro­duc­tion of thou­sands of var­iedly sized golden orbs that need to be painstak­ingly ar­ranged by hand on a hol­lowed­out dial be­fore be­ing sol­dered on. When it was first ex­e­cuted on the Ro­tonde de Cartier 42mm Pan­ther with Gran­u­la­tion watch (2013), some 320 hours and 3,800 golden balls were used to cre­ate the face of Cartier’s em­blem­atic pan­ther.

How­ever, it is within the re­ju­ve­nated or newly in­no­vated tech­niques, such as in the ex­am­ples of flo­ral mar­quetry (2014), enamel gran­u­la­tion (2016) and flamed gold (2017), that Cartier’s ded­i­ca­tion to the arts can be fully ad­mired.

With flo­ral mar­quetry, Cartier achieved a world premiere when it re­placed the tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als of wood, straw or feath­ers (typ­i­cally used in mar­quetry art) with dyed rose petals to evoke the feath­ery por­trait of a par­rot. The Bal­lon Bleu de Cartier watch with Par­rot mo­tif (2014) was the first time flo­ral petals have been used in mar­quetry-style art, which ex­plains why it took three weeks just to com­plete the dial.

Enamel gran­u­la­tion came about when Cartier in­ge­niously com­bined the art of Etr­uscan gran­u­la­tion with its ex­per­tise in enam­elling, re­plac­ing the golden spheres with lit­tle te­diously pro­duced enamel beads. Fi­nally, with the flamed gold tech­nique, Cartier was in­spired by the method of blue­ing steel (com­monly found in hands and screws): Through the process of fir­ing up the gold dial at dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures nu­mer­ous times, a pal­ette of colours rang­ing from light beige to blue is elicited to form an ar­rest­ing im­age of the beloved pan­ther.

ABOVE LEFT: EACH ENAM­ELLED GRANULE HAS TO BE IN­DI­VID­U­ALLY PLACED AND SOL­DERED ONTO THE DIAL OF THE BAL­LON BLEU DE CARTIER ENAMEL GRAN­U­LA­TION WATCH; ABOVE RIGHT: THE MYR­IAD OF COLOURS THAT HAVE BEEN USED ON CARTIER’S ENAMEL WATCHES

FIX­ING THE GEM-SET EYE ONTOTHE PAR­ROT MO­TIF ON THE DIAL OF THE BAL­LON BLEU DE CARTIER, THE FIRST WATCH TO FEA­TURE FLO­RAL MAR­QUETRY

AP­PLY­ING THE FIN­ISH­ING TOUCHES ON THE RO­TONDE DE CARTIER TIGER, WHICH FEA­TURES A DIAL DEC­O­RATED WITH GRI­SAILLE ENAMEL

CARTIER’S RÉVÉLA­TION D’UNE PAN­THÈRE WATCH FEA­TURES900 TINY GOLDEN BEADS SUS­PENDED IN A VIS­COUS LIQ­UID

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