Hublot, Conservatory of Ancestral Crafts

October 2003

One of the greatest 'qualities' of the luxury sector is its active contribution to the preservation of ancestral techniques. Without the support of the large luxury brands, many crafts and trades, whose origins sometimes date back to antiquity, run the risk of disappearing for all time. With its 'Hublot Art Collection', MDM is greatly conserving and perpetuating some of this precious and ancient savoir-faire.

Cloisonné enamel, champlevé enamel, bas relief, incision engraving, Urushi lacquer, miniature enamelling… These are some of the artisanal techniques that MDM uses in the realization of the unique pieces that make up its 'Hublot Art Collection'. Created in 1980, the Hublot watch is a refined 'mono-product' whose continual success has allowed it to traverse more than two decades without ever changing. Modern yet restrained, it is equipped with its sophisticated, famous and unique natural rubber bracelet that is unequalled in robustness and flexibility (and that is delicately perfumed with vanilla). Created by Carlo Crocco, the Hublot watch is increasingly adding unique models to its collections, using all sorts of prized decorative techniques.

Urushi: a world first

At BaselWorld this year, MDM presented a world first: a watch whose dial was decorated using the Urushi lacquer technique. So, what exactly is Urushi? With its brilliant appearance, the softness and exceptional depth of its texture, Urushi lacquer is considered to be the summit of the various oriental lacquering techniques.

Derived from the resin of a tree called Urushi, the use of this material goes back more than 9000 years, according to Carbon-14 dating of bracelets recently discovered in Hokaido. The technique itself was named Urushi during the times of the 'Noble Court'. Mixed with gold and silver powder, it was used in the decoration of fur-niture and accessories, becoming an integral part of the Natsume tea ceremonies. Today, only a few rare artists continue this very high tradition that has become one of the symbols of traditional Japanese beauty.

Depending on the intricacy of the design and the type of support employed, from 9 to 15 successive layers are necessary, each needing to dry during about ten days. This is only a very partial indication of the complexity of the Urushi art. Suitable for practically all surfaces, the lacquer has exceptional properties. Especially hard, it offers excellent protection, which makes the object impervious to water while giving it a fresh and moist appearance. Very resistant to chemicals and corrosion, it is also amazingly adhesive. During the Stone Age, men used it to connect arrowheads to the wooden shafts. It can be tinted black, red, brown or yellow by mixing it with various pigments or oxides. None of the many steps necessary to its fabrication has ever been mechanized, which confers an even greater degree of artisanal nobility to this princely technique.

Hublot, in consultation with the best artisans, chose five traditional designs for the creation of its watches, symbolizing strength, happiness, long life, prosperity and paradise. These are the models Ryu (dragon), Sohkaku (twin flying cranes), Rakucho (bird of paradise), Koi (carp) and Karajishi (lion). This extraordinary ensemble represents a true world first in watchmaking.

Four enamel

techniques on one watch

Another demonstration of Hublot's savoir-faire in the domain of decorative arts is the 'Cupid' watch. This outstanding covered timepiece in 18 carat yellow gold encompasses four enamel techniques, all ancestral: cloisonné enamel, bas relief, champlevé enamel, and miniature enamelling. The cover is decorated with three of these techniques. It depicts a cupid in bas relief whose wings are enamelled in miniature and whose bow and arrow are made in cloisonné enamel.

The inside of the cover is decorated with floral designs in champlevé enamel on a background of opaline enamel. The dial is made in cloisonné enamel and decorated with two red hearts on an opaline background traversed by orange flames.

Each of these techniques has a long and ancestral history that is impossible to describe in detail within the scope of this article. The cloisonné technique is primarily differentiated from the champlevé technique by the way the metallic support is prepared, requiring the addition of separate walls making up the design. Colour after colour (some 50 operations and a minimum of 12 trips to the oven with baking times calculated to the second), layer after layer, the enamel will acquire its great brilliant depth that is the sign of its quality.

Presentation in vivo

These different techniques, as well as those of bas-relief and incision engraving were presented as an educational display at the Hublot stand during this last Spring's BaselWorld show. Besides showcasing and preserving the knowledge and savoir-faire of this incredible historical technique, the exhibition allowed Hublot to demonstrate the validity of the idea, unique in its genre, of a watchmaking offer based on a mono-product that is available in different models.

The Hublot design thus shows its talent for transformation by including all types of decoration yet it strictly maintains its own characteristics and basic lines. Without a doubt, this is possible due to the fierce independence of MDM. It is a serious, consistent, even obstinate brand, while remaining discreet. This combination creates marvels, both literally and figuratively.