Watchmaking was born ornamental. The first wearable watches astonished and were soon taken up by the rich and the powerful. But they were most inaccurate and their value lay less in their use as an instrument and more in their ornamental richness. The artistic crafts and watchmaking have been closely linked ever since, for better, often, and sometimes for worse if we consider some monuments of rich kitsch that have been produced over the years. But this relationship between artistic crafts and technical professions has witnessed both intense and calmer periods.
The birth of precision watchmaking and later the sacrosanct rules of the Bauhaus movement (“form follows function”) pushed decoration into the background for a while, without it disappearing completely. But the chances of the knowledge of such crafts being passed on plummeted and entire branches disappeared, while others found themselves under threat of extinction.
And yet for the past few years, the artistic crafts have made a big comeback, to such an extent that at the SIHH and BaselWorld the number of brands presenting their “Métiers d’Art” collections has increased considerably. But what are the reasons behind this?
- An enlarged impression of a straw marquetry motif by Hermès
There are actually several of them and they come together to create a small phenomenon. The artistic crafts have become strategic. Through them, a number of global brands are aiming to lay claim to legitimacy at the top of the watchmaking pile, not for financial reasons (the volumes produced, which by their very nature are highly restricted, do not make them a major profit centre) but in terms of brand image and prestige.
But there are other considerations to take into account in addition to these marketing reasons. We are coming to the end of an era when mechanical watchmaking has gone from one technical breakthrough to another, directly influencing the aesthetics of the watch. To a certain extent, mechanics has spread to the dials, with a number of watches now proudly showing off their technical entrails as a new form of proud decoration. The mechanics have become a decoration in their own right, at a cost of numerous excesses. Today, owing to the crisis, we are witnessing a return to moderation and classicism. The ultra-thin, uncluttered watch is gaining ground. By the same token, the tradition of the artistic crafts is also experiencing a revival, as a sort of counterweight against the dominant technicality. In this context, being able to present unique works of art in which the craftsman’s hand takes the most important role has a reflection on the whole product range. It is now the in thing to have one’s own plumassier, marquetry artist for straw or hard stones, one’s own enameller or engraver. It is even better to bring together different artistic crafts working in collaboration on a common approach, which helps to avoid the very real threat of a trivialisation of the artistic crafts.
While we can only welcome the resurgence in popularity of these crafts, we can nevertheless regret one thing: the majority of the brands using them are simply reproducing themes from the past that no longer have any relevance to the present day. Attempts to adapt the artistic crafts to an aesthetic that is more in tune with the times are all too rare. Some brands are doing so, nevertheless, looking to the abstract or taking inspiration from artistic movements that are closer to the present day, whether impressionism or cubism… And good for them, because we think that this is what will allow a genuine renaissance in the artistic crafts rather than a mere repetition of what has already been done in the past.
Special ARTS & CRAFTS section:
Source: Europa Star October - November 2013 Magazine Issue