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Métiers d’art are second nature for Cartier
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Métiers d’art are second nature for Cartier

Wednesday, 14 January 2015
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

In August 2014, Cartier opened its Maison des Métiers d’Art, a renovated farmhouse within sight of the Cartier Manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds. With some fifty dedicated craftsmen and women producing in the region of five hundred watches a year under its one roof, this new endeavour will nurture the artistic crafts of both yesterday and tomorrow.

The Ronde Louis Cartier Filigree watch is the first timepiece to emerge from this Maison des Métiers d’Art, originally built as a farmhouse in 1872 and, after renovation, home to Cartier since August last year. It provides a suitable setting for the brand’s craftsmen and women on its La Chaux-de-Fonds site, and offers further confirmation that the métiers d’art have become second nature for Cartier. The fifty-some staff, most of whom were based at the neighbouring Manufacture, have set up their benches inside the new location, where they will work together on the five hundred or so timepieces that will come out of these four walls each year. “On a historic note, already in 1902, King Edward VII dubbed Cartier “jeweller of kings, king of jewellers,” notes Sébastien Mathez, who is director of Fine Watch production at Cartier. “From its very beginnings in 1847, Cartier stood out as having a particular inclination for the métiers d’art. Brothers Louis and Pierre Cartier were artists as well as merchants, who brought back from their travels techniques that were directly inspired by local crafts. This is the very tradition we wish to perpetuate today.”

Eyes open for long-lost techniques.
Mysteries and surprises

The project had time to mature. Cartier’s first collection to be entirely dedicated to the métiers d’art was unveiled in 1999, and the brand has repeated this performance every year since, always returning with more mysteries and surprises. Not only does it intend reviving techniques from the past, it is also set on exploring new territory. “Certain crafts are no longer taught today, hence why we wanted to bring people together, to make it easier to pass on the secrets of the craftsman’s skills orally,” adds Sébastien Mathez. “This shared spirit is, in itself, a factor for creativity and innovation.” The principles that presided over the creation of this Maison des Métiers d’Art were threefold – preserve, share and innovate – and take shape around three themes – enamelling, marquetry and jewellery – that encompass the full range of techniques practiced there.

As well as making watches that carry on from previously presented series, Cartier’s specialists keep their eyes open for long-lost techniques, forgotten “knacks”, and new opportunities to express them. The collections released over the past three years are fine examples of this. In 2012, Cartier presented a series of watches in grisaille enamel, an ancient enamelling technique in which the motif is “painted” in blanc de Limoges on a black background, producing shades of grey with each subsequent firing. The following year trained the spotlight on Etruscan granulation. This technique uses tiny beads, or granules, cut from gold threads then heated with a flame. These beads are assembled one by one into the desired motif. In January 2014, floral marquetry made its debut. This technique, unprecedented in watchmaking, uses actual flower petals which are preserved, dyed, then affixed to a thin piece of wood, following which they are painstakingly cut into the requisite shapes using a marquetry saw. Needless to say, each of these dials is the result of dozens of hours of work, and only ever proposed as part of a limited edition.

One month to complete in a labour of love that is now the heart and soul of this Maison des Métiers d’Art.
The ancient art of filigree

Inspired by such feats of artistry and craftsmanship, Cartier will come to the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie with a new demonstration of this ongoing commitment to the métiers d’art. The Ronde Louis Cartier watch which the brand is presenting this year is a testament to the art of filigree. The result is a dial adorned with two panthers, fashioned in a delicate gold and platinum lace. These precious threads are twisted, rolled, then cut into tiny rings that are fused together using the openwork technique, whereby the threads are attached at the side rather than the base. So as to further enhance this already painstaking work, the panthers’ filigree coat is spotted with black lacquer and woven with diamonds. From the felines’ emerald eyes to the background in gold-spangled lacquer and the filigree work that spills onto the diamond-paved middle, this watch passed from the stone-cutter to the goldsmith, from the jeweller to the engraver and the lacquer painter. Each dial takes one month to complete in a labour of love that is now the heart and soul of this Maison des Métiers d’Art.

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