Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Watches Rewind to Encapsulate Age-Old Designs ; Traditional Techniques of Timepiece Making Find Revival in Asian Market

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Watches Rewind to Encapsulate Age-Old Designs ; Traditional Techniques of Timepiece Making Find Revival in Asian Market

Article excerpt

Traditional watchmaking techniques like producing repetitive linear patterns and enameling, known collectively as Metiers d'Art, are experiencing a rise in popularity across the globe.

In recent years, several decorative crafts have enjoyed a growing popularity with Swiss watchmakers who have been applying age-old artistic skills on a miniature scale to adorn the dials of their high-end timepieces.

The art of guillochage -- a hand-operated machine-turned engraving technique that produces precise, repetitive linear patterns -- is one such traditional craft, first adopted in watchmaking by Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 18th century: Enameling is another. According to Carson Chan, Asia managing director for Bonhams, the first clock decorated with enameling probably dates back to the 16th century.

Mother-of-pearl and feathers became fashionable decorative materials for watch dials in the 1920s and 1930s, Mr. Chan said during an interview. Watchmakers have also embraced the use of straw and wood marquetry, although none of these have been as popular as enameling, he added.

The rising popularity of these techniques, known collectively as Metiers d'Art, was visible at an international fine watch convention, the S.I.H.H., last month in Geneva. Several brands took advantage of the platform to release collections that made rich use of these techniques, most notably enameling, marquetry and miniature painting.

"Metiers d'Art watches have been an important trend for several years," said Christian Selmoni, artistic director at Vacheron Constantin. "And it seems that the interest from the public and our clients is still growing."

Mr. Selmoni said that in addition to a strong network of collectors and connoisseurs in Asia, a region that has long appreciated enameling work, the demand for "Metiers d'Art" watches had become more global.

"We have clients from all main areas asking us about such timepieces," he noted in an e-mail.

Pierre Rainero, the style, image and heritage director at Cartier, said Metiers d'Art watches generally appealed to customers because of their uniqueness.

"Even if these watches are made in a limited edition, each is still one of a kind, because of the slightly differences in colors and proportion," he said by telephone. "Plus, there is also a real appreciation right now for high-quality work done by hand," he added.

In January, Parmigiani Fleurier introduced its first watch dial in wood marquetry, a delicate technique that pieces together jigsaw- like slivers of wood to create an image -- in Parmigiani's case a stylized guitar and a flag, intended to evoke the spirit of music.

Vacheron Constantin meanwhile presented Florilege, a new collection of ladies' watches including three that interpret 18th- century botanical illustrations from England using guillochage, gem- setting and Grand Feu cloisonne enameling -- an exceptionally difficult technique in which the enamel is vitrified at temperatures as high as 800 degrees Celsius (1,470 degrees Fahrenheit). …

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