Art meets l’élégance personnifiée, Wolverine meets Rapunzel: Going hands-on with the new Jaquet Droz Paillonnée
Editor’s note: This is a Hands-On review of the new men’s Jaquet Droz Paillonnée watch for 2020. Today’s watch is brought with the grateful assistance of J Farren-Price Sydney and is on exhibition until 18th November at 80 Castlereagh St, Sydney (02 9231 3299).
The American author Robert Fitzgerald once said: “Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation”. When it comes to the new Jaquet Droz Paillonnée watches for 2020, with the masterful art of paillonné enameling, they are both elegant, and when viewed in person, simply a revelation.
The use of jeu de couleurs, the élégance, the age-old techniques gave us the perfect way to start off this review. It’s Wolverine meets Rapunzel. Now I know what you are thinking. Jaquet Droz has nothing to do with these personnages. The art of paillonnée enamelling is so sophistiqué and elegant that these characters can’t possibly have anything to do with the fine work we have to expect from the Maison? Well, not directly, no. You would be right. But, and a big but, we are in a creative industry after all, and what’s the point in being boring and just mechanically dishing out an uninspired review copied from a press release? What’s new in that? It’s not for us anyway. So, here we go. Allow me to explain why I mentioned these fictional characters, loved my boys and girls globally.
One, it’s because we were all young once, and in my humble opinion, associations with our childhood memories work best in acquiring an art piece. And this is exactly what Jaquet Droz’s latest offering is, a beautiful art piece for the wrist.
Two, the context. In this current climate of social distancing, Jaquet Droz releases a new watch that’s not only suited for a princess in its prestige — in this imaginary scenario of our’s, more specifically a Disney Princess — but is also well timed given the princess in question could be called the icon of social distancing. We are talking about Rapunzel.
On the other hand, Jaquet Droz releases a men’s version of this watch too (and the one we got to go hands-on with). And the colour segue combined with the fact that it acts as a homage to the concept of ancient decorative technique called Fleur de Lys which dates back at-least to the 18th-century if not more, who better to symbolise that age old technique that refuses to die other than our very own Wolverine. He has the ability to survive through ages, just like this art form the watch embraces, and his comic avatar colours — not the movie versions — remind me of the watch colours.
So, there you have it, Wolverine meets Rapunzel. Introducing the new Jaquet Droz “Fleur de Lys” Grande Seconde Paillonnée and the “Fleur de Vie” Petite Heure Minute Paillonnée.
Covered with small sparkling motifs, these new very limited releases are here to sprinkle a bit of joy on your soul. Using ancient decorative technique to showcase floral motifs, the art of paillonné enameling stunningly decorates the dials of these new watches.
The Seriously Amazing World of Decoration
Before we provide you with the technical specifications or even describe what the extremely rare art of paillonnée is, let us briefly put this into more context and look at what other dial decorative techniques are there in the market today. The paillonné does make use of a couple of the below techniques, so we figured it would be nice to explain them here.
Guilloché – Let’s start with the most common, guilloché (or Basse Taille). Commonly named ‘engine turning’, it is the art of precision-engraving of materials with lines or circular shapes or linear patterns, with Abraham-Louis Breguet being among the first to introduce guilloché decoration to watch dials. The dial metal that has been decorated with a pattern is treated to translucent enamel. This gives the dials a distinctive look. Example: Breguet Marine Tourbillon Équation Marchante 5887.
Grand Feu – Grand Feu, translated as “Great Fire” is the perhaps the next most common one after guilloché. The dials on these watches usually go through a substantive amount of labour. First comes the initial stages of grinding and cleaning of the enamel. This enamel is then applied with a brush to the chosen dial while still wet, in a thin and consistent layer. The combination is heated in a furnace at a temperature higher than 800°C. Further several layers of enamel are added until the desired colour is reached. Then the dial is gently polished. The dial is again placed in the furnace one last time to provide it with its natural sheen. Repeated baking helps permanently set the enamel and ensures that it doesn’t crack easily over time. Example: Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367.
Emaille à froid – This is the enamelling technique where cold enamel is used. It’s still heated like above, but only to a relatively cool 180°C. This lends to it a more smooth, glossy finish.
Marquetry – This is a very, very rare technique that the best of the best, like Patek Philippe sometimes use. Traditionally used on household items like furniture or smaller wooden objects, it makes use of different kinds of woods in a wide variety of colours which is then applied to the motifs chosen. Example: Patek Philippe 5077P.
Cloisonné – Simply put, in this technique, extremely thin wires — think human hair — are used to partition the dial surface. The name in-fact comes from the French word cloison, which means compartmentalise or partition. Once the dial is segregated, then differing enamel inlays can be applied, and then the product fired in a kiln with great amounts of depth being achieved as a result. Example: Rolex reference 5028.
Champlevé – Next up is the art of champlevé. Just like the above method of cloisonné, in champlevé, troughs or cells are carved or etched. These hollows are then filled with enamel, fired, cooled and then polished. But they are different to the art of cloisonné in that the metal dial is first carved into the base of the dial rather than being applied on the surface. There is much more play of depth in this technique. Example: Various Van Cleef & Arpels offerings.
Plique-a-jour – This technique is used to pretty much replicate the stained glass look. An enamel composition is made from multiple joined pieces that are separated by a thread of gold. This enamel is then laid between metal but with no base. This way the light can pass through the enamel. Example: Jaquet Droz’s Petite Heure Minute “Smalta Clara Hummingbird“.
Flinqué – Unlike the above option where the base is removed, in this one it becomes crucial. The metal base is first engraved and then the enamel is applied directly to it multiple times. Example: Blancpain Villeret Retrograde Small Seconds.
Paillonné – Last but not the least on our list is the enamel technique of the moment, paillonné. This is the one used in the new Jaquet Droz “Fleur de Lys” Grande Seconde Paillonnée and the “Fleur de Vie” Petite Heure Minute Paillonnée. In this technique, paillon refers to the tiny ornamental motifs that are created from gold leaves. The technique uses some of the other techniques mentioned above, and works as follows. First, guilloché work is done on a gold dial. It is then covered in translucent coloured enamel that lets the guilloché pattern shine through. Next, several layers of enamel are applied, each one individually fired in the oven. Finally the stage of applying decorative paillons (strips or foils) to the dial takes place. Dainty motifs cut from a thin gold leaf — the paillons — are placed by hand one by one to create a figure. Once the design is done, the figures are also covered with another layer of enamel and fired in the same oven. The final translucent coat helps protect the paillonné.
So now you see how intriguing and intricate is the world of enamelling that’s produced the new Jaquet Droz “Fleur de Lys” Grande Seconde Paillonnée and the “Fleur de Vie” Petite Heure Minute Paillonnée. It is time consuming, requires great and rare skills, patience, and a critical eye for detail; it is also costly and painstakingly more intricate than simply creating a more common sun-ray finished dial. It is also exclusive and elegant.
We — hopefully you would too — certainly do appreciate that the Maison is taking out the time to create pieces such as this so the art form doesn’t die.
Wolverine – the Men’s version
According to the Maison, the Jaquet Droz “Fleur de Lys” Grande Seconde Paillonnée is designed to symbolise “the kings and emperors”. The watches are designed as “emblems of a very long heraldic tradition”.
The reference J003033437 uses the calibre 2663.P that is a self-winding mechanical movement featuring a silicon balance spring, pallet horns, double barrels, and an 18-karat red gold oscillating weight. The movement beats at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h), features 30 jewels, and boasts of a decent 68-hour power reserve. It is cased inside a 43mm diameter and 12.06mm thick 18-karat red gold case with an individual limited serial number engraved on the case-back.
The watch face shows the off-centered functions of hours and minutes at 12’o clock, and a large off-centred seconds ring at 6’o clock on a blue Grand Feu paillonné-enameled and silver opaline dial with 18-karat red gold appliques and blued steel hands.
Produced only in 8 pieces, the watch comes on a rolled-edge hand-made blue alligator strap with an 18-karat red gold ardillon buckle.
Rapunzel – the Ladies’ version
According to the Maison, the Jaquet Droz “Fleur de Vie” Petite Heure Minute Paillonnée is designed around a “geometric design that has traveled through millennia and across cultures” that represents the “birth and growth of all living things on Earth”.
The reference J005003244 uses the calibre 2653.P that is a self-winding mechanical movement featuring a silicon balance spring, pallet horns, double barrels, flat bridges, and an 18-karat red gold oscillating weight. The movement beats at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h), features 28 jewels, and boasts of the same as above 68-hour power reserve. It is cased inside a 35mm diameter and 10.80mm thick 18-karat red gold case that is set with 232 diamonds totalling 1.23 carats.
The watch face shows only the off-centered functions of hours and minutes at 12’o clock on a blue Grand Feu paillonné-enameled and white mother-of-pearl dial with 18-karat red gold appliques and blued steel hands.
Produced again only in 8 pieces, the watch comes on a rolled-edge hand-made blue alligator strap with an 18-karat red gold ardillon buckle.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
I like the new Jaquet Droz Paillonnée watches for 2020. Watches like these are made far and in-between, and help break the monotony set in by simple, traditional watches. Not that there is anything wrong with traditional looking watches; as a matter of fact most of my personal collection is very traditional and no where near on the same planet as these watches.
But whenever I look at watches that are essentially wrist art, they make me smile. They are different. And sometimes they are tacky. Not this one. This is l’élégance personnifiée.
And I admire that while the Wolverine version retains the same design language as their entry level watches, it has got the ability to look familiar yet in a class of its own. I think there is a fine line between recreating exactly the same thing as before and creating something new that even though reminds you of the older version, transcends into being something completely exemplary.
If I had to nitpick about something, it would be the text on the dial. The Jaquet Droz logo and branding stand out at 9’o clock and while I understand why they are there, for a piece as refined and stereotypical of the brand as this, I would have personally preferred the dial without any branding whatsoever.
The sunken silvered opaline sub-dials forming the iconic figure ‘8’ as always lend their charm to the dial. I have spoke about this before but the detail — which might annoy some but we appreciate — of mixing Arabic and Roman numerals is very much present and welcome. It is after-all a very usual Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde design language that we have come to love.
The off-centered hours and minutes dial at 12’o clock brings a certain sense of quirkiness to the dial and the paillonnée motifs frame this essence of time very nicely. Using the concept of the golden ratio, these overlapping interwoven circles in my opinion are now as iconic as a Gerald Genta design or a Monaco case body, even though they have only been around for two decades or so.
The Jaquet Droz Paillonnée is a great looking limited edition watch from the master of enamel art, and is certainly a class apart from anything one would usually see on wrists. Not your run-of-the-mill timepiece, it’s art meets rare skills meets l’élégance personnifiée.
For more information on the new Jaquet Droz Paillonnée and other Jaquet Droz watches, please head to their website here. A version of this review was first published on 17th June 2020. All images unless specified otherwise ©WatchYaGonnaDoAboutIt.