Miniature painting, gem-setting, enamel, engraving… Baselworld’s exhibitors left no (precious) stone unturned when demonstrating their expertise in the métiers d’art. Though less in evidence than a decade ago, when every Fine Watch brand worthy of the name advocated the beauty, delicacy and rarity of these skills, watchmakers continue to demonstrate a profound attachment to these companion crafts.
Blancpain provided a lesson in engraving on shakudō, a gold and copper alloy, while Breguet chose intricate guillochage to decorate the mother-of-pearl on its Reine de Naples. Bulgari took gem-setting to new heights with the Serpenti Seduttori while Chanel used glyptic, the carving of gemstones, for a fresh interpretation of patterns from Coromandel screens. Dior went all-out jewellery with ornamentations in precious stones, mother-of-pearl, opal and polished gold while at Harry Winston, watchmaking became a pretext to explore the origins of luxury through dials in embossed woven silk, inspired by the splendours of Europe’s royal courts.
Enamel miniature painting at Hermès, so lifelike you can almost hear it growl, sculpted gold at Hublot and Jaquet Droz, miniature trompe-l’œil on enamel at Patek Philippe… works small in scale but immense in talent. That a machine should ever replicate these skilful executions seems barely a possibility, given this relentless determination to safeguard and promote rare techniques for no other reason than our sheer pleasure, and to elevate watchmaking above and beyond a purely mechanical feat.