At their simplest form, watches do one thing — tell time. At the other end of the spectrum are mechanical wonders of the highest horological order, fitted with tourbillons, chronograph movements, and astronomical indications. Here, you’ll also find another category, one that applies age-old artistry and techniques to produce works of art.
These “Metiers d’Arts” watches, as they are collectively known, champion the skills of artisans and craftsmen who create masterful creations. They use enamelling, miniature painting, marquetry, gold filigree, engraving, and gem-setting techniques. These crafts, which take years of training, practice, and talent to achieve, are typically applied to fit into a watch dial, which can be more challenging and difficult due to the miniature scale.
In recent years, there has been a revival of this traditional craft, as watch brands continue to produce stunning works of art. This tradition of adorning and decorating watches is a way for artisans to showcase their skill, innovation, and creativity, which in turn helps keep the artistry alive.
Enamelling — which includes cloisonné, paillonne, and champlevé techniques — is one craft that’s often used to decorate watches. Patek Philippe is one brand that uses enamelling to stunning effect. Under its Rare Handcrafts collection are several noteworthy pieces, such as Ocean Liners (right watch in image opener) and Turkish Motifs (left watch) Calatrava watches, that use cloisonné enamelling. Gold wire is used to outline each scene before translucent, opaque, and opalescent enamels are applied. Numerous firings are required at the right temperature to achieve the ideal colours.
Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Fabuleux Ornements 2016 collection is another highlight. The four timepieces featured are inspired by specific themes, and all are decorated differently using various techniques. The Ottoman Architecture uses gold gridwork and hand chamfering; Chinese Embroidery features a jade cloisonné dial with pink opal and mother-of-pearl flowers, and hand-engraved leaves and stems; Indian Manuscripts uses champlevé enamelling and hand engraving; and French Lace has a translucent hand-guilloché Grand Feu enamelled dial.
The #Reverso à Eclipse is a unique reversible #watch featuring a platinum case equipped with the in-house #JaegerLeCoultre calibre 849, which lends itself perfectly for one of the rarest fine art traditions, miniature #enamel painting. A simple gesture is enough to open the shutters of the watch, and to reveal a miniature recreation of #VanGogh’s work. #JLCinAmsterdam #MyReverso
Working on miniature enamelled paintings is no small feat, but Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso à Eclipse watches provide the perfect canvas for the craft. Thanks to the brand’s own enamel workshop, it has previously featured Famous Nudes (reproduction of works by Renoir, Klimt, and Botticelli) and, most recently, a portrait of Vincent Van Gogh.
Jaquet Droz takes this craft to another level with its Charming Bird timepiece. Inspired by the traditional technique of paper-cutting, it has a hand-painted and engraved mother-of-pearl dial featuring the Swiss countryside, and a hand-engraved platinum or gold bird automaton under a sapphire crystal dome.
Intricate and innovative. An exquisite timepiece that combines filigree technique, lacquer work, and gem-setting. #Cartier #Watchmaking A photo posted by Cartier Official (@cartier) on
Cartier also has a Metiers d’Art facility that produces magnificent works of art. One highlight is the Ronde Louis Cartier XL watch that features the ancient art of gold filigree work. On the dial is a complex set of “lace” panthers created using 22k gold and platinum micro wires that are twisted and shaped to form a pattern. They are further embellished with diamonds and black lacquer. The result is a delicate and intricate masterpiece.
Another ancient craft is marquetry, where small pieces of wood or other materials are inlaid to create decorative designs. One of Piaget’s newest offerings includes the Altiplano model in wood marquetry. At its heart is the Yves Piaget Rose using thin pieces of pale rose bird’s eye maple wood, pink and light red sycamore, and mother-of-pearl — a stunning piece of work considering the 38mm dial and fragile materials used.
The artistry and uniqueness of these watches mean that they are highly collectable (they are often extremely limited or one-of-a-kind), and appeal to sophisticated collectors and watch connoisseurs who appreciate these art forms.