Enamel before it is
mixed with oil and
used to paint the dial
Enameling the watch bezel
Firing the various
at more than 1,400
Testing the fit of the
before they’re secured
on the dial
The stunning Cartier Santos 100 watch with hummingbird motif ($86,000), which takes 100 hours to complete, employing nine colors of enamel, 10 pieces of mother-of-pearl for the marquetry, 20 pink sapphires for the flower and a total of 216 round diamonds encircling the face
Since its inception more than 160 years ago, the great house of Cartier has been creating exquisite objects of wearable art. Continuing this grand tradition are the superlative timepieces from the Cartier d’Art Collection—a series of unique watches that revive and reinterpret some of the finest artistic techniques of all time. Among them is the rarity of enamel watch dials.
The art of enamel begins with hard glasslike stones that are crushed into powder and mixed by the artist with oils to form the right consistency for painting on the dial. The colors don’t blend, and each time a color is painted onto the dial, it must be fired in a kiln at a temperature above 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. A single watch dial can undergo dozens of paintings and firings before completion, depending on the depth and complexity of the image. Every firing brings with it a new risk of damage as bubbles can appear, a single speck of dust could fall or the colors could burn off improperly—all causing the dial to be lost and the enameller to begin all over again.
Several types of enamel exist, including cloisonné (with strips of gold outlining the painting), spangle (with gold foil or decorations laid into the enamel) and several other techniques. Perhaps the most coveted is a simple freehand painting, where the artist creates his or her own technique—a combination of many ideas—developing a signature look and feel. Every enamel dial is a unique piece, each individually painted with passion and an immense amount of patience.
Among the six new timepieces Cartier released in its d’Art Collection this year is the superb Santos 100 watch in white gold with a hummingbird motif painted in champlevé grand feu enamel in a gradation of nine colors, which re-creates the beauty of nature in a diameter of less than two inches—an amazing feat. The watch dial also boasts a stunning background of mother-of-pearl marquetry and is inset with 20 pink sapphires. The 18k white-gold case is further embellished with 216 round diamonds weighing 1.09 carats, and it houses a self-winding mechanical Caliber 076 movement. Created in a limited edition of 50 individually numbered pieces, it retails for $86,000.
A glorious masterpiece to behold, the watch is no easy task to create. It takes a single enameller hundreds of hours of meticulous painting (with single-hair brushes) to finish one dial. And with just a few masters of this time-honored craft available for hire, each of these exquisite watches is a true collector’s item. Cartier, 653 Fifth Ave., 212-753-0111; 828 Madison Ave., 212- 472-6400