Rendering Cartier’s iconic panther in Macassar ebony and 24k-gold leaf, the Ronde Louis watch highlights a technique never before used by the brand.
Photo: Courtesy of Cartier

4 Stunning Watches Showcase Extraordinary Craftsmanship

Hermès, Cartier, Piaget, and  Vacheron Constantin wowed at SIHH with their highly decorative dials

Métier d’arts is part of a long tradition in Swiss watchmaking, and each year top watch brands showcase their expertise in artisan crafts by producing limited-edition timepieces with highly decorative dials. Although the techniques and visuals vary greatly, the watches often reflect an important historical accomplishment, an interpretation of an artwork, or an image related to a luxury brand’s heritage.

This year, at the recently concluded Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) luxury watch fair in Geneva, several companies displayed watches with an array of artisanal techniques that included engraving, marquetry, and painting—all of which added artistic elements to the well-known mechanical precision of Swiss watches.

Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers by Vacheron Constantin

This collection of five limited-edition watches pays tribute to France’s first hot-air balloon flights, which took place from 1783–85. The timepieces depict an historical representation of the flights through the combination of hand-engraved and micro-sculpted gold figures and translucent plique-à-jour enamel backgrounds. Each dial takes three weeks to produce due to the range of subtle features and ornamental details.

Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection by Vacheron Constantin. Photo: Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin

The pounced ornament technique was used to remove material to create relief effects of the balloons, baskets, people, and animals. The scene for each engraving is backed by a colorful translucent background in sky blue, dark blue, turquoise, brown, or burgundy. The backdrops are created through cloisonné enameling that appears like miniature stained-glass windows.

An artisan grinds enamel to create the watch backdrop. Photo: Johann Sauty

The translucent quality of the cloisonné enameling provides a glimpse into the gear trains and discs of the Vacheron Constantin Caliber 2460 G4/1 movement that powers four discs that reveal the hours, minutes, day of the week, and date in apertures on each corner of the watch. The balloon theme is continued on the back of the watch rotor in gold.

The blue version.

Ronde Louis by Cartier 

This year, the Ronde Louis Cartier watch boasts a technique never before used in the brand’s watchmaking history: wood and gold leaf marquetry. This method creates a rendition of Cartier’s iconic panther’s face with Macassar ebony veneers over 24k-gold leaf. The dark wood is etched and sanded until bits of gold are revealed, while a pair of peridots light up the panther’s green eyes. The piece is produced at Cartier’s dedicated Métiers d’Art facility in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.

Ronde Louis Cartier panther watch is rendered in ebony and 24-k gold. Photo: Courtesy of Cartier

Altiplano Flying Tourbillon by Piaget 

Piaget’s Altiplano Flying Tourbillon. Photo: Courtesy of Piaget

Like Cartier, Piaget also produced a watch using the marquetry technique, although they employed bright green malachite mineral stone to dazzling effect. To do this, the luxury brand teamed with artist Hervé Obligi, who partnered with the Piaget workshops in La Côte-aux-Fées and Plan-les-Ouates to make the creation.

Piaget says there are four stages to producing the malachite dials, requiring artisans to spend two to three weeks on a single piece. It’s more difficult because the object is ultra-thin: the case of the 41-mm watch is only 4.6 mm. This category of watchmaking is something that Piaget has expertise in, breaking multiple records for ultimate thinness while retaining an elegant aesthetic.

To create the dial, rough stone is cut into slices barely 1 mm thick, then polished to determine shade and color. The contour of each element is precisely traced on the stone using a pointed brass tool. The plate is cut into extremely thin strips using a tiny bow saw composed of a hazel tree branch and an abrasive-coated steel wire. Once cut out, the elements are adjusted and assembled. The finished piece is then attached to a smooth gold surface before heat gluing the joints by filing the empty space between the beveled edges with pine resin. What’s left is a smooth polished stone with swirls in different shades of green.

Assembling the green malachite cut stone pieces into place. Photo: Courtesy of Piaget

Slim d’Hermes Savana Dance by Hermès

Hermès, the Parisian company known for its artistry and craftsmanship, made its first appearance at SIHH this year, and it did not disappoint. Among its offerings was a limited-edition watch featuring a mother-of-pearl dial depicting a jungle scene that includes a leopard, a monkey, and colorful flora.

Slim d’Hermès Savana Dance watch. Photo: Claude Joray
The “Savana Dance” motif, which will appear on 12 Slim d’Hermes models, is hand-painted by Hermès artisans. Photo: David Marchon

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