February 2014

Ralph Lauren, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget

The lavish use of diamonds remains one of the best ways to glam-up a ladies’ timepiece and the more diamonds used, and the more complicated their different sizes, cuts and settings are, the better. But since such diamond-set pieces have long been a feature of the ladies’ collections for most brands, there seems to be an increasing need for brands to demonstrate their artistic prowess in other ways, notably through the application of traditional artistic crafts to the watch dial. Continuing a trend that started with a vengeance last year, luxury brands apply new artistic crafts to their dials to create genuine miniature works of art.

Three-quarters of the new models presented by Ralph Lauren at the SIHH this year were for women - a complete reversal of last year’s strategy. And ladies’ watches at Ralph Lauren means classic designs lavished with diamonds. Lots of diamonds. In the case of the new “Petite Link” Stirrup model, no less than 2,017 diamonds (approximately 20.35 carats) are set on the dainty 27mm by 23.30mm Stirrup case in white gold, with the intricate setting of the interlocking links of the bracelet being particularly worthy of note. This high jewellery version is the standard bearer for a new collection of six references that includes models in stainless steel and red or white gold and with or without a more sober snowfall diamond setting around the circumference of the case.

Left: “Petite Link” Stirrup by Ralph Lauren - Right: Art Deco 867 by Ralph Lauren
Left: “Petite Link” Stirrup by Ralph Lauren - Right: Art Deco 867 by Ralph Lauren

Diamonds also form the basis for a new bracelet on Ralph Lauren’s Art Deco 867 collection, where they are set into 65 grammes of white gold in openworked and interlinked geometric shapes reminiscent of the forms used in Art Deco architecture. A total of 410 brilliant-cut and 20 baguette diamonds are used for the setting (approximately 11.70 carats) of the case, bracelet and its clasp. No surface is spared the setter’s hand, with even the 18-carat white-gold crown set with diamonds. This exquisite piece, which is also available with the diamond bracelet set into a black suede strap, is powered by Ralph Lauren’s in-house RL430 calibre, which beats at 21,600 vibrations per hour and has a power reserve of around 40 hours.

Vacheron Constantin once again demonstrated its expertise in the artistic crafts (métiers d’art) with a series of limited-edition Fabuleux Ornements pieces that will only be available in the brand’s own stores. Aside from hand guilloché, grand feu enamel and hand engraving, the art of “stone cloisonné” makes its debut on the Chinese embroidery piece.

Chinese embroidery by Vacheron Constantin
Chinese embroidery by Vacheron Constantin

Here, the stones (pink opals, ruby, garnet and cuprite) are individually cut and lapped to create a tapestry of flowers on a dial with minute white-gold partitions to recreate the effect of Chinese embroidery. The dial of the French Lace model also recreates an effect similar to embroidery with blue and pink sapphires and diamonds set individually into an open-worked gold lattice against the background of a translucent grand feu enamel dial on a hand-guilloché base.

French Lace by Vacheron Constantin
French Lace by Vacheron Constantin
Ottoman architecture by Vacheron Constantin
Ottoman architecture by Vacheron Constantin
Indian manuscript by Vacheron Constantin
Indian manuscript by Vacheron Constantin

The collection is completed by two unusual models dedicated to Ottoman architecture, with a mother-of-pearl dial adorned with half-pearl beads, and Indian manuscript, using hand-engraved grand feu champlevé enamel. In all four models the exquisite dial decoration has to compete with the equally eye-catching open-worked mechanical movement, which is visible through an offset opening in the dial. Vacheron Constantin calibre 1003SQ is a hand-engraved manually-wound mechanical movement that is a mere 1.64mm thick, operates at a sedate 18,000 vibrations per hour and offers a power reserve of approximately 31 hours.

Piaget also introduced two new métiers d’art in its “Mythical Journey” collection, which offers miniature snapshots of the landscapes, wildlife and architecture that can be seen along the legendary Silk Route and Spice Route between Asia and India. Taking a number of different cases as their canvas (Altiplano, Emperador, Emperador XL, Limelight, Polo, Protocole), the artisans have created miniature works of art using techniques such as champlevé enamel, cloisonné enamel, micro-mosaic, and stone setting. But the two techniques that stand out are the gold thread embroidery and bulino-style engraving.

38mm Altiplano by Piaget featuring gold thread embroidery
38mm Altiplano by Piaget featuring gold thread embroidery

The gold thread embroidery is applied to two 38mm Altiplano models with a pine tree and plum blossom on the dial. The fine black silk that forms the base of the dial is stretched and attached to a support, on to which the motif to be embroidered is outlined in white powder applied through a tracing of the motif. Gold thread is then wound spirally to form a cannetille, which is used to embroider the motif using different styles of stitching, working to a precision of half a millimetre in a process that requires six hours of work and two metres of gold thread. The dial is framed by an 18-carat white-gold case set with 78 brilliant-cut diamonds and a black satin strap. Its finesse is matched by the ultra-thin Piaget 430P manually-wound movement that beats within.

38mm Altiplano by Piaget featuring Bulino engraving
38mm Altiplano by Piaget featuring Bulino engraving

The “bulino” engraving technique takes its name from the sharp, angled tool used by Italian engravers for very fine engraving. In the case of another Altiplano 38mm model it is used to bring to life on a gold dial the leathery skin of an elephant. The effect is achieved by the craftsman using finely dosed pressure and subtle changes in the angle of engraving.

Even after the major focus on métiers d’art pieces at last year’s SIHH, it appears that there is still plenty of potential for incorporating new and even more intricate forms of decoration on to the relatively tiny surface of a watch dial.

Source: Europa Star February - March 2014 Magazine Issue