Step into famous museums like the Louvre, and you’ll be immediately taken aback by the sheer amount of beauty and talent. More than just paintings on the wall, these are also ideas that have been bought to life with extraordinary techniques. So imagine recreating the depth and allure of a painting, but on a minuscule canvas measuring just slightly more than an inch.
This is what some of the most skilled artisans do for hundreds of hours on end to create the most stunning artistic watches on earth. Using techniques that are equally — if not more — tedious, each fusion of art and horology are unique in itself. Then there’s the many methods in which they could employ — from painting and cloisonné work, to enamelling and even embroidery.
As the mediums through which the big brands employ are constantly evolving, some even blending several together, these artistic watches are fast becoming the most sought-after for collectors, second only to haute complications. What’s extraordinary is that like the wall masterpieces at the Louvre, many of these modern pieces have roots that are centuries old, with the revered enamel work being one of the most time-honoured traditions you’ll find today. You’ll find below that these pieces require more than a skilled and steady hand; an extensive knowledge of colours, firing processes and a gut feeling honed only by experience is essential.
From a delicate silk embroidered piece to one with an enamelled imagery by Japan’s “Living National Treasure”, these are the five artistic watches with a dial that steal the limelight away from the movement.
No stranger to artisanal crafts and exotic dials, Hermès looks to the ancient arts from the East and West for its latest trio of timepieces. Using the fine art of Persian miniature painting and enamel miniature painting, the Maison recreates its scarf designs onto the dials. The Arceau Tyger Tyger, in particular, stands out for its stunning depiction of Alice Shirley’s iconic scarf. After layers of cloisonné and miniature enamel painting, thin gold wires are used to mark the outline of the big feline, which is filled with more coloured enamel. The 41mm watch is a one-of-a-kind timepiece that’s handcrafted solely by renowned enameler Anita Porchet.
An art often forgotten, embroidery makes a rare appearance on the dials of Chinese watchmaker Maison Celadon’s timepieces. Each painstakingly embroidered on the dial by Chinese silk artisans, the Celestial Silk collection sees three Eastern-influenced designs applied with Su silk embroidery — the highest art form within four main Silk embroidery types in China. The unique technique is distinguished by using split silk threads for more complex gradients and denser stitching, resulting in a stunningly vivid depiction despite the limited confines.
Van Cleef & Arpels are familiar to translating beautiful romances onto timepieces. That fairytale world comes alive again for the Poetic Wish, on which a couple in Paris look longingly at each other from a distance, before finally meeting on a bridge to kiss at midnight. A dial can take months to finish, as artisans apply engraved gold, enamel work, mother-of-pearl sculpting and miniature painting disciplines onto the 39mm timepiece. The principle complication within is the minute repeater, which activates the dial animation too. As time passes, the lady and a kite move to indicate the hours and minutes. Still, a better love story than Twilight.
With a little help from artist Kiichiro Masumura, Chopard brings the jungle to live on your wrist. The “Living National Treasure” of Japan — a title conferred to him by Japanese authorities — handcrafted the extraordinary dial using time-honoured lacquering techniques of Urushi and Maki-e within the underrated lines of the L.U.C. XP. The ultra-thin model is powered by the mechanical self-winding L.U.C. 96HM movement, and the unique mix of ancestral Japanese art and Swiss horological refinement makes this watch a collector’s must-have.
With its recognisable off-center sub-dial, the Petite Heure Minute became the perfect canvas for the ancestral Korean “Najeon Chilgi” technique, which involves a mother-of-pearl encrusted lacquer. Once often used to decorate jewelry boxes for aristocratic ladies, Jaquet Droz now applies this delicate art to create miniature depictions of wild and free flowers. Following the careful lacquering and polishing of the mother-of-pearl, engravers hand-paint it to mirror the effect of light glistening upon the floral ornaments. Against the black lacquered dial and onyx subdial, the florals stand out brilliantly with a subtle dazzle, earning it its name of “Thousand Year Lights”.