The Rrench ministry of culture has devised a name for people Like Nelly saunier: maître d’art. This designation signifies artisans Who have mastered a unique craft for the sake of art. Combining Tradition with creative aspects, these “masters of art” are in a League all their own.
On occasion, these masters come in contact with the world of watchmaking, and Harry Winston has given horology the opportunity to meet the uniquely talented Saunier, a plumassière who combines bird feathers to form beautiful masterpieces of marquetry.
Saunier’s work is generally found on objets d’art and the haute couture creations of well-known designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. The feathers add a soft, decorative and sometimes outrageous element to fashion ensembles. Harry Winston’s Premier Feathers is the first wristwatch dial she has created.
Birds such as peacocks, Lady Amherst’s pheasants and ring-necked pheasants are the perfect donors thanks to their beautiful plumage. They are raised especially for this purpose, their feathers selected with great care. “The feathers fall naturally from the birds, and only the most beautiful are chosen,” Saunier explains from her Paris workshop. “I also use feathers that I find in nature or that people bring to me.” Saunier relates that it is very important for her to see the birds alive and in their natural habitats, and to gauge where the feather was originally located on the bird’s body, in order to be able to visualize her works of art. Back in her workshop, she washes and steams the chosen feathers to restore texture and color before carefully cutting precisely the piece that she needs and gluing it to the surface of the object to be decorated.
“I was fascinated by birds and feathers from a very young age,” she explains. While studying feather art at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Art, “I became amazed by the creative possibilities of this technique, from objects to fashion and works of art.”
Feather mosaics celebrated their heyday in the 16th century. During the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, a number of these artistic objects were sent to Europe, where they landed in cabinets of curiosities. The art form became prized among Europe’s royalty and by the turn of the last century there were about 800 workshops in Paris working with feathers. Today, the craft’s rare beauty graces only very unique luxury products.
“Similar to working with precious stones transforming [watches] into pieces of jewelry, feather art is a technique that was practiced by ancient civilizations such as the Incas or the Ming dynasty,” explains Sandrine de Laage, Harry Winston’s vice president and art director of design. “Stone setting and feather art require the same dexterity and precision, the same passion for nature’s most beautiful offerings: Hence the idea we had to bring together diamonds and feathers in a unique way in this timepiece collection. Two exceptional natural elements, so different, but at the same time two elements that share the same characteristics.”