This story originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
Bringing art to one of the smallest possible canvases — a petite watch dial — expert artisans use enamel, miniature painting with single-hair brushes and even identical reproductions of larger artworks to decorate the dials of these beautiful timepieces.
Van Cleef & Arpels
Lady Arpels Ronde de Papillons
The luxury French house dedicates an entire collection, Poetic Complications, to fanciful mechanical watches for women. The complications don’t focus on timekeeping, but rather showcase incredible technical achievements celebrating beauty and whimsy. Here, three butterflies dance in and out of clouds to indicate the minutes, and the retrograde jumping-hours are shown by a swallow. Every time the watch strikes 12, the swallow flies back to zero almost instantly. A push of a button sets all three butterflies on a dance before they return to tell the time.
$125,000, Van Cleef & Arpels in New York, +1 212 896 9284, vancleefarpels.com
Arceau Mythiques Phoenix Coloriages
Depicting the phoenix in flight, miniaturist painters use the thinnest possible brushes — some consisting of a single hair — to achieve the incredible detail of this work, which is painted on a natural white mother-of-pearl dial. Some of the details are so delicate that you will want to examine the craftsmanship with a loupe (a small magnifying glass), so you can admire the rich layers of color and intricate brushwork that bring the mythical creature to life. The finely finished movement is visible through a sapphire caseback.
From $79,200, Hermès in New York, +1 212 751 3181, hermes.com
Tonda 1950 Marcello Lo Giudice
Taking artist collaboration to the next level, Parmigiani Fleurier worked with Italian artist Marcello Lo Giudice to bring his paintings to the wrist of 12 lucky ladies. Using a laser to engrave and mark the dial, they were able to identically reproduce part of Eden Universe, Eden Ocean. Skilled craftsmen then painted the dials, mimicking the colors, volume and texture of Lo Giudice’s work. Each of the 12 automatic watches is a unique piece, as they each portray different portions of the artist’s work.
$36,000, Le Studio Parmigiani Fleurier at Miami Design District, +1 786 615 9656, parmigiani.com
Amadeo Fleurier Blue Peacock Grand Feu Enamel
Cloisonné enamel is one of the most difficult arts in dial decoration. A master artisan uses very fine gold wires to form the outline and details of the motif, then hand-paints ultra-thin layers of enamel within, firing it in a kiln between each layer. This results in colors with incredible depth and beauty. An intricate example of cloisonné enamel, this miniature painting from Bovet depicts a peacock’s feathers fanning across the spectacular dial. Underneath it is a self-winding movement with a generous 72-hour power reserve.
$105,000, Cellini Jewelers in New York, +1 212 888 0505, bovet.com