Though Cartier has been producing Metier d’Art watches for several years, mostly decorated in enamel, 2011 sees the introduction of the largest collection yet. Of six models unveiled this year, all were enamelled (along with other decoration like engraving), save for one, the Rotonde de Cartier jumping hours with bear motif in marquetry.
The watch itself is the jumping hours from the Fine Watchmaking collection with a white gold case. Instead of the two-layered, grey guilloche dial of the regular model, the limited edition Metier d’Art version features an exceptional dial. It depicts the head of a brown bear, astonishingly formed out of 38 pieces of wood veneer.
This technique is known as marquetry and is most often found on furniture and items like humidors and clocks, larger items for the most part. In contrast this watch is a mere 42 mm wide in diameter, with a dial about 30 mm wide. The artisan who creates the dial is Jérôme Boutteçon, an award-winning French marqueter who in addition to Cartier has worked for other watchmakers.
To create the dial, Mr Boutteçon has to select the right veneers – slices of wood millimetres high – from his cellar. They need to be the correct colour, contrast and grain. The colour is important for obvious reasons, while the grain matters because it creates the perceived texture of the fur of the bear.
As Mr Boutteçon says, the veneers are his “palette of colours”. But unlike paint, each piece of wood is unique, so a veneer sometimes waits for the perfect project. According to Mr Boutteçon the walnut veneer used for the bear was sitting around for more than ten years, but with the bear dial, “its time [had] come”. In total ten types of wood are used for the dial: holly, chestnut, poplar, willow, grey and pink maple, walnut and burr walnut, mottled maple and grey aningeria.
Using the design supplied by Cartier, Mr Boutteçon makes a line drawing, essentially a template with which to cut the pieces of veneer, which are stacked up in ten layers high and cut together, into the right shape. 12 hours of sawing is required to cut out the 38 pieces of wood for the dial, because it is done by hand.
This is done with a foot-operated saw, with the stacked veneers being carefully moved by hand according to the template. The saw is so fine that it can saw through a pin head, according to Mr Boutteçon. This precision allows for Mr Boutteçon to cut along the middle of the 0.13 mm line of the line drawing, which allows the pieces to be fit together exactly.
After the cutting is completed, the slivers of wood are pieced together. Some pieces need to be partially shaded for depth and shadow. This is done by heating the piece ever so slightly.
After they are assembled the entire dial needs to be polished and sanded. Because the dial is paper thin, this has to be done cautiously so as not to wear down the veneer excessively. By the end each dial takes about 160 hours of work.
Marquetry produces more muted colours, but it is no less nuanced than enamel. Though not as widely used in watchmaking as enamel, and consequently not as well known, marquetry is as much of an art as enamelling.
Mr Boutteçon talks about his work in this video
This message has been edited by SJX on 2011-09-04 03:51:13