Miniature masterpieces

© Written by Rachael Taylor for Global Citizen

Watching one of Jaquet Droz’s artisans at work is a humbling experience, and one that sets a tone of both intensity and reverence. With tiny movements of the hand, near invisible to onlookers, Heidi Spiesser Alonet works quietly and intently on creating a miniature enamel masterpiece that will, when finished, perfectly capture the beauty of an underwater pond scene.

The canvas, or rather watch dial, is better measured in millimetres rather than inches, and the intricate details are so tiny that every stroke must be administered with the aid of a microscope. With the miniaturised dial offset to 12 o’clock, this leaves about half the creamy white 38mm dial for the artist to play with.

Each dial is painted entirely by hand, a process that can take up to a week, and if a single error is made during that time, the dial is rejected and the work starts again. Even just perfecting the paintbrush used to work up the scene – plucking out wayward bristles and endlessly shaping and refining – takes three months, according to Spiesser Alonet.

From within the Atelier de Haute Horlogerie at Jaquet Droz’s headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, a varied collection of hand-painted enamel dials have emerged as part of L’Atelliers de Art collection: ballet dancers, horses, dragons, tigers, cranes, even what appears to be a tiny cherub using a blue butterfly to pull itself along in a chariot.

But the artistic archives at Jaquet Droz are about to become even more diverse as the maison opens itself up to commissions. As of this year, anyone with a spare AED115,000 or so can gain access to the skills of Spiesser Alonet and her peers, working with them to create exclusive one-off masterpieces of their very own choosing.

Once a sketch has been agreed upon, the artisans will set about bringing it to life in full colour – the mixing of the enamel paints is an artistry in itself – and on completion, the bespoke watch dial will be fired in a kiln to set, rendering the dial unalterable. The miniature artwork’s lustre and shine will be locked in place for thousands of years, according to Jaquet Droz, though unfortunately that’s far too long a guarantee for any mere mortal to keep tabs on.

Keeping heritage horological artforms alive is Jaquet Droz’s raison d’etre, and opening up this incredibly special world to the whims of watch collectors is a brave and exciting move. The maison produces just a few hundred timepieces each year, due to the incredibly intricate nature of the work involved, be that mechanical wizardry or artistic excellence, and to think that one of those could be exclusively created for you, never to be repeated again, feels like becoming part of watchmaking history.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2015 issue of Global Citizen (p76-77).

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