Behind-The-Scenes At The Cartier’s Maison Des Métiers D’Art Workshop
Find out how the brand blends cutting-edge innovation with heritage techniques.
Cartier’s newest artistic timepiece is a testament to the pleasure of taking your time. The Ronde Louis Cartier XL Flamed Gold features a flamed gold technique that is being showcased on a watch dial for the first time ever. The brand discovered this craft some three years ago, and embarked on a two-and-a-half-year research and development process to render it on the miniature canvas of a watch dial.
So far, only one craftswoman, Swann, is trained in this technique at the maison, and it took her six months to master the craft. Essentially, the silhouette of a panther is “painted” by heating a gold dial at different temperatures to achieve varying shades of metallic blue and brown. As a base, Cartier uses an 18K white gold dial infused with large quantities of iron. The latter is an oxidising agent, and allows the gold to react to the heat and change colour depending on the intensity of the flame.
"Cartier’s newest artistic timepiece
is a testament to
the pleasure of taking your time."
A palette of six hues can be obtained—from beige at the lowest temperature, to a metallic blue at the highest. Swann applies a direct flame to the dial to “colour” the different elements of the panther’s head, achieving varying gradients of different hues by adjusting the temperature. A ceramic tool is then used to scratch the surface of the panther, to emulate the texture of the animal’s fur.
It is an exacting and time-consuming process, and Swann takes about six days to complete one dial. The first two days are dedicated to engraving the panther on the gold dial by hand. (The feline features prominently in Cartier’s design lexicon, and is often the subject of the various artistic crafts practised by the French maison.)
Meticulous attention to detail and a finely honed sense of intuition are needed to specialise in this craft—Swann cannot allow even a microscopic speck of dust to remain on the dial, as this will be noticed when the gold is heated. The colours alter slightly each time she heats the dial, so she also needs to have an instinctive feel for when the colours are just right. Once she finishes the heating process, the dial is covered with a protective coat to prevent further oxidation.
Swann has been with the maison for over nine years, and has undertaken various artistic projects that have enabled her to flex her creative muscles—an aspect of the job she thoroughly enjoys. Cartier’s design-driven ethos encourages artistic expression, and galvanises artisans such as Swann to push creative boundaries while remaining respectful to heritage crafts and the maison’s design motifs.
"It is an exacting and time-consuming
process, and [it] takes about
six days to complete one dial."
This interplay between tradition and innovation has been very fruitful for Cartier, as we discovered on a tour of its Maison des Métiers d’Art workshop in Switzerland. We arrived in Geneva on a dreary Monday morning, and the two-hour drive to the canton of Neuchâtel was bleak, the grey sky lulling us into a fitful nap. We woke up to sunshine and blue skies in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sits in the Jura mountains at an altitude of 1,000m.
The modern, glass facade architecture of the Cartier manufacture sits next to the converted 18th-century farmhouse that houses its metiers d’art department. As we were admitted into the main atrium of the Maison des Métiers d’Art through heavy oak doors, we were instantly struck by the seamless integration of modernity and tradition. The brand consciously used materials from the 18th century, such as limestone flagstones and wood panelling, while contemporary elements included a sunroof and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in ample sunlight for the craftsmen to ply their craft.
The Maison des Métiers d’Art is the sixth Cartier-owned watchmaking facility in Switzerland, and it’s where artistic techniques both old and new are researched and developed. The atelier is split into four levels. The top-most eaves offer a scenic panorama of the snow-capped mountains, while the ground floor comprises meeting rooms and the salons. In between, craftsmen are trained in all manner of metal work and jewellery making on the second level, and techniques such as enamelling and marquetry are explored on the third. Esoteric crafts have been reinvented time and again at Cartier, with great flair—examples include the art of gold granulation as seen on the Rotonde de Cartier panther with granulation. New techniques such as the floral marquetry seen on the Ballon Bleu de Cartier Floral-Marquetry Parrot have also added to the depth and breadth of the brand’s savoir faire.
Atelier Special: Slip behind the scenes with us as we take you into the wonderful—and often private—world of ateliers. In Part Four of a series of four, we take you to the beautiful Cartier watchmaking facility in Switzerland.