Four Mind-Blowing Art DialsWritten by Charmian Leong
Real art you can appreciate.
Metiers d’art watches are beautiful, no question, but they actually serve a greater purpose than acting as ornamental foil to those satin-brushed, sunray-finished, complication-laden machines we (also) love.
They are here to safeguard rare and precious decorative techniques. However, it is not waning demand that’s keeping these arts from going mainstream. Rather, it’s that these techniques are so laborious and time-consuming that they are just not commercially viable to produce on a large scale.
Their justifiably prohibitive price tags, rarity and emphasis on meticulous skill are perfect complements to fine watchmaking. This is why top watchmakers often have a few novelties saved just for showing off awe-inspiring dials. Here are four of our favourites from 2019.
HERMÈS Arceau Baobab Cat
Considering how much work goes into making one Hermes scarf, where a single design can take over a year to conceptualise, and over 40 layers of printing involved during its production, it’s prudent of the maison to extend those designs in its other products.
Hermes’ watches have been on the receiving end of these stunning compositions for years, but miniaturising them requires a completely different set of skills. The Arceau Baobab Cat, limited to 12 pieces, borrows a motif on a scarf designed by African ceramic artists Ardmore in 2018. It has been recreated in an Arceau case using miniature painting on an onyx dial and hand-engraved mother-of-pearl applique. These two crafts give the dial vivid depth and detail (just try counting all the itty-bitty spots on the leopard and, petals and leaves without giving yourself a headache), which was the result of two weeks of painstaking work.
HARRY WINSTON Premier Precious Micomosaic Automatic 36mm
As its name suggests, micromosaic is an extremely scaled down version of mosaic, where the tiny fragments that form the final image can be as thin as the lead of a mechanical pencil. These fragments, known as tesserae, were traditionally made from glass or enamel that are pulled into thin rods and then cut into tiny pieces to be arranged on a copper or gold tray.
Harry Winston revisits this ancient Italian technique in the Premier Precious Micomosaic Automatic 36mm with tesserae made from stained glass from the city of Ravenna in Italy. The brass dial is machined in Geneva before being sent to Ravenna, where the tesserae are carefully assembled and polished by hand before returning again to Geneva to be cased and set with diamonds. There are four editions, each one limited to 30 pieces.
HARRY WINSTON Premier Precious Peacock Automatic
Harry Winston’s use of feather marquetry in its Premier Feathers collections was a breathtaking way of capturing the beauty of peacocks, but the jeweller has proven this year that its favourite bird can still bewitch in more stylised ways. The Premier Precious Peacock Automatic is another micromosaic masterpiece but one that highlights the bird’s plumage with coloured glass and precious stones outlined with gold. There are two versions, where the white gold model features a blue peacock dotted with eight sapphires, and the red gold one displays the bird in matching hues and rubies. Including the ones set in the bezel and lugs, the diamond count totals 226 brilliant-cut stones. Both are limited to 30 pieces each.
JAQUET DROZ Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara Hummingbird
There is no such thing as an easy enamelling technique, but plique-a-jour is arguably the hardest of the lot. Like cloisonne enamelling, plique-a-jour produces an image by filling a framework of wires with enamel. Unlike cloisonne enamelling, the framework isn’t soldered to a supporting metal base, but to each other so that it can be removed after the enamel cools. The enamel used also needs to be translucent so as to achieve a stained glass effect. All in all, a nightmarishly delicate process.
Jaquet Droz once again bravely embraces this 1,500-year-old technique with 2019's Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara Hummingbird, a follow up to 2018’s Smalta Clara Tiger. Whether in pink and light blue or green and turquoise, the dials are a spectacle of colour, elevated in elegance by a mother-of-pearl sub dial and a case rimmed with 100 diamonds.
After seven years as a full-time scribe, four of them spent writing about luxury timepieces, Charmian has gone the way of the freelancer and is now fascinated by a different facet of time: having it. When not labouring over a story with a martini in hand, she plays video games and takes naps in 8-bit.