Best of 2019 watches: miniature crafts
Small really is beautiful when it comes to the artisanal crafts of prestige watchmakers.
Small really is beautiful when it comes to the artisanal crafts of prestige watchmakers. From painting to marquetry to gem-setting, this level of precision requires a magic touch. We explore the best of this in year's miniature crafts.
Hermès Arceau Awooooo
“I wanted to create a design with a limited colour palette, primarily in greys,” says Alice Shirley, describing her silvery white wolf howling at a crescent moon. “As wolves are primarily nocturnal, I decided to make it a starry, moonlit night.” The London- based artist, who trained at Central Saint Martins’ Byam Shaw School of Art, first captured the wild animal for Hermès in 2018, when it graced one of the marque’s famed scarves. This year, her illustration was replicated for an update to Hermès’ Arceau watch. Limited to eight pieces, the 41mm Hermès Arceau Awooooo frames Shirley’s work in a 41mm white-gold case, with a matt graphite alligator strap. On a hand-polished white enamel base, artisans trace the motif’s silhouette, then the outlines are filled with layers of enamel powder mixed with natural oils. Each dial takes up to 20 days to finish, the most challenging aspect being the re-creation of the canine’s luxurious pelt.
Chaumet Écritures de Chaumet
With its new limited-edition Métiers d’Art collection, Chaumet focuses its attention on 19th-century impressionist masterpieces. Blue-chip artists featured include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Odilon Redon, whose 1905 work The Red Tree has inspired a floral-themed Grand Feu enamelled dial in delicate blue, white and pink tones. Employing numerous techniques including miniature painting, engraving and ornamental stone marquetry, the Parisian jeweller zooms into celebrated artworks to capture the minutest of details. Vincent Van Gogh’s 1890 oil painting Field with Poppies was inspired by the pastoral vistas of Auvers-sur- Oise; Chaumet pays homage to the artist and his perennial spring-flowering subject (pictured) by magnifying the master’s brushstrokes with miniature painting, all framed in a diamond-set pink-gold case.
Dior Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles
Dior Horlogerie first launched Dior Grand Soir in 2010 as a collection of rare timepieces that celebrates the Parisian brand’s haute-couture heritage. This year, the maison adds 18 one-of-a-kind models to the offering, each of them dedicated to the bee – the insect is one of Dior’s best-known emblems, along with the four-leaf clover and Monsieur Dior’s lucky star. Engineering a trembleuse system, the brand’s artisans achieve a particularly lifelike rendering of the endangered pollinator: sparkling wings are fitted with a spring, its tension and thickness precisely calibrated. Dior’s bees buzz gently above a white-gold dial snow-set with diamonds.
Harry Winston Premier Precious Weaving Automatic 36mm
The umbrella term raden refers to several Japanese and Korean artisanal techniques used to adorn woodwork and lacquerware with light- reflecting ivory and shell detailing. These traditional processes are graded according to thickness of the materials used: the thickest is known as atsugai, the most wafer-thin is kenma. This ancestral craft inspired the makers at Harry Winston, who took 18 months to devise tapestry-like dials woven on a miniature handloom, using silk threads and mother- of-pearl. The chosen motifs of the American jeweller include the Chrysanthemum flower, the many-petalled emblem of the Japanese Imperial family. Limited to 30 pieces, the Premier Precious Weaving Automatic 36mm has a 18K rose-gold case, set with 74 brilliant-cut diamonds, and an open sapphire-crystal case back.
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Mécaniques Sauvages
Vacheron Constantin’s premier watchmaking department, known as Les Cabinotiers, takes its name from the 18th- century top-floor workshops – or cabinets – where skilled artisans would create things of spectacular beauty. The Swiss marque’s own unique workshop continues this tradition with watches that often beggar belief. A case in point is this year’s Mécaniques Sauvages collection: five unique timepieces adorned with unfathomably detailed animal motifs – including a duo of majestic tigers – using a combination of bas-relief engraving and wood marquetry. To create its panda dial, Vacheron Constantin’s craftspeople hand-cut and colour-matched more than300 tiny veneers, and as many as 20 different types of wood were utilised for the most complex designs. Each of the timepieces in the collection has a completely hands-free display; instead, the time and date are shown by way of four apertures in the dial: hours are indicated in the space between 11 and 12 o’clock, minutes between one and two, days between seven and eight, and the date between four and five.
Cartier Ronde Louis Cartier Regard de Panthère
The panther is Cartier’s enduring mascot: the Parisian luxury maison debuted its first wildcat-themed timepiece in 1914. Then, Cartier reimagined the panther’s rosette-marked fur in lustrous diamonds and onyx set in platinum; this year, a headshot of the big cat is realised in a chequerboard mosaic for the Ronde Louis Cartier Regard de Panthère. Limited to 30 numbered models, this wristwatch has a 36mm yellow-gold case and a dial that matches small squares – each painted by hand – to form a pixelated panther’s face, which is further accented with brilliant-cut diamonds and mother-of-pearl marquetry. The nocturnal beast famously hunts at night; in tune with this, Cartier’s precious predator features glow-in-the-dark eyes, courtesy of an expert application of the luminescent pigment Super-LumiNova®.
Graff GyroGraff Endangered Species
This collection from Gra showcases an innovative technique pioneered by the British jeweller and known as diamond marquetry, with five breathtaking timepieces dedicated to animal species listed by the World Wildlife Fund as being under threat of extinction. Graff’s bestiary comprises a rhino, an elephant, a tiger, a gorilla and a panda, and all five are captured on intricately crafted dials. Each of the designs has upwards of 112 individual components (the elephant, pictured, has 135), all assembled on an iridescent deep-blue aventurine base.