Artful crafts to embellish time

Artful crafts to embellish time (july 2015)

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Engraving, skeletons, enameling, setting: these extremely rare specific skills and artistic talents are behind true watch masterpieces.

The profession of watchmaker is not the only trade being performed inside a manufacture. In the workshops where watches are created, there are some 40 professions and 180 different skills! Among these, some are dedicated exclusively to the decorating of cases and movements.

Setters, for example, are capable of covering a watch entirely in diamonds and precious stones using techniques that leave the settings completely invisible.

Appearing around 500 years B.C., enameling techniques have been almost completely forgotten over the course of time. Today, few and far between are the Houses with an enameling workshop where artistic masterpieces of miniaturization are created. Reproducing paintings or landscapes, animal silhouettes or floral patterns: nothing seems impossible for the master enamellers who pass on their secrets from generation to generation. Their task is actually incredibly delicate: 22 layers of enamel are sometimes required while the confection of a single dial can take between 80 and 200 hours of work of exceptional precision. Whether it be grand feu enamel, champlevé or cloisonné, the slightest firing mishap can reduce days of toil to nothing. In an oven set to a temperature of 800 degrees, everything hangs on just thirty seconds of time.

For the engravers working metal with fine point brushes, it is also a question of minutiae and infinite patience. Whereas it may take two hours to engrave a set of initials into gold or steel, a portrait requires three days’ work and reproducing an engraving of a bouquet of flowers set with precious stones demands an entire week of labor. And as for the guillochage specialists, they say that it takes 20 years of practice to master all the secrets of this craft…

Sometimes, several skills come together, such as with paillonage which combines enameling with the inclusion of gold threads.

Always in search of innovation and the means of preserving the rare professions of yesteryear, some designers jump at the opportunity to include embroidery patterns, marquetry designs and even feather or petal motifs on their dials! What an unsettling paradox to see timepieces embellishing the present by exalting the past.

And yet, isn’t the most beautiful of watchmaking skills that of hand-cutting and assembling minuscule pieces of metal to achieve the creation of movements of unbelievable complexity? I think so…

Ekaterina Sotnikova

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