Under its Art & Excellence banner, Piaget revives traditional metiers d’art with the support of specialised craftsmen. By working with these artisanal hands, it has ensured that decorative arts on the verge of becoming obsolete are brought back to life, and that these skilled artisans are given a wonderful platform of exposure.
Even though metiers d’art has now become a buzzword that many brands are espousing, Piaget’s interest in decorative arts had started in the early 2000s, before the trend really picked up, says watch marketing director Franck Touzeau. He explains, “In 2008, 2009, it was a trend to use these decorative techniques, which proves that there are a lot of brands that are very opportunistic as they just want to follow trends. As you know, Piaget never follows trends. We follow the true DNA of our brand.”
A recurring theme in the Art & Excellence collection is the Piaget Rose, an icon for the maison. The Yves Piaget rose, named after the descendant of the maison, often blossoms on the dials of the Altiplano watches, in a variety of iterations. For 2016, it has been incarnated in sculpted gold, and in wood and mother-of-pearl marquetry.
The former was crafted by Dick Steenman, a veteran of 25 years who specialises in engraving and enamelling. For Piaget, Steenman has sculpted the golden flower petal by petal, carefully and meticulously keeping into consideration the slimness of the dial.
Meanwhile, Rose Saneuil was enlisted to combine wood and mother-of-pearl marquetry to emblazon the likeness of the rose onto the dial. When we spoke to the craftswoman at SIHH, she told us that she typically works on larger platforms, in the form of jewellery boxes. Here, the challenge was in miniaturising her canvas. She first starts by sketching the rose, and then selects the pieces of wood like a painter picking colours from a palette, and pairs them with delicate pieces of mother-ofpearl to craft the rose. It takes her 25 hours to finish one dial.
When I asked her what skills are required to be a craftsman of her calibre, Saneuil said, “You need a lot of patience, rigour and dexterity. It’s really a contrast between something that has a mathematical limit and something that is creative with no limits. It’s a compromise between the two; but it pleases me. I am very square, but very passionate about art.”
Jewels & Time: Why the focus on the Velvet this year? Lionel Favre: We launched the Velvet in 2012, and we’ve never really promoted this line ever since. Still, it has become a strong pillar of the brand and is a success without promotion. From the beginning, Velvet was designed as a woman’s watch and not a man’s watch with reduced dimensions and diamonds.
J&T: Velvet has many links to fashion. But watch purists often decry the association of fashion with watchmaking. Do you intend to change perceptions? LF: For us, it is not a problem as we are different from the rest. First of all, we do not have a huge history. We write our own canvas. We are not a fashion brand, we are watchmakers and we know exactly who we are. We want to highlight watchmaking with the same spirit you have in haute couture, not ready-to-wear.
This year, we worked with the Parisian shoemaker Massaro. He worked on creating a leather strap for the Velvet; it’s very soft and the pattern is a plaited gold. We also worked on the dial to adapt to the strap. It’s not a fashion product. You have a beautiful piece of jewellery with the Geneva Seal— we don’t want to use quartz.
J&T: Why Paraiba tourmalines in black carbon on the Black Velvet? LF: Carbon is a contemporary material, and Paraiba is a contemporary stone—kind of, because it was discovered in 1988 so we consider it a new stone. I like this allusion: new stone, with a new material. The end contrast is interesting. It was difficult to find the exact same colours for the stones. This watch is patented, as it’s the first time we have set stones in carbon. We put titanium prongs in the carbon before setting the stone.