Reviving an art form: reinventing feather marquetry for women and men

© Written by Rachael Taylor for BaselWorld Brand Book

With her shining scalpels and clinical precision, Nelly Saunier looks every bit a hybrid of watchmaker and physician as she peers through the illuminating light of a desktop magnifer in her Parisian studio. But she is neither; she is an artiste plumassiere.

Feather artistry, or plumasserie as it’s known, was once a thriving industry that employed up to 7,000 people in Paris alone at its apex in the late 1800s. When millinery took a hit in the 1960s as hard hats fell foul of fashion, this incredible art form became almost extinct.

Then in 2012 Harry Winston revived plumasserie in a brand new way by combining the ancient art form with another, that of horology. The launch of the first Premier Feathers collection of fine ladies’ watches, each with a feathery dial created by Saunier, was a certified smash hit, with the collection selling out on release.

Harry Winston continued to enhance the complex mastery of its watchmaking with intricate feather marquetry in the years that followed, offering up an exotic menagerie of dials made from ethically sourced feathers of pheasants, peacocks and guinea fowl. Each feather, some tinted to create a more colourful plumage, was painstakingly placed in a way that created a dial pleasingly more akin to the view down the length of a kaleidoscope than the wing of a bird.

This year the Premier Feathers collection will take a new direction with the launch of the Midnight Feathers Automatic 42mm, Harry Winston’s first timepiece with feather marquetry created for men.

Despite the collection’s previous allegiance to women, this new mechanical timepiece – complete with a clear view of the movement’s 18ct white gold skeleton rotor, parabolic Côtes de Genèves, circular graining and bevelled bridges, through a sapphire caseback – is a dashingly masculine flash of rustic tones. An 18ct rose gold case and dark brown alligator strap set the scene for the all-important dial, this time created from a marquetry of black and brown flight feathers taken from domestic geese, arranged in such a way that they could be mistaken for wood. This is the true magic of cleverly executed feather marquetry – that a feather should not look like itself, but act as a brush stroke of a masterpiece.

Harry Winston believes that its latest masterpiece will attract gentlemen looking for “a break from monotony” and the watch maison’s continued love affair with this most singular fusion of horology and plumasserie offers just that.

Read the original article in the BaselWorld Brand Book 2015 here (pages 10-11).

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