Cartier: The Making of a Timeless Timepiece

The Enamel and Marquetry watches, which boast workings of gold, enamel, and wood, are more art than craft. But art's pricey: $80,000 to start

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The watches in Cartier's Enamel and Marquetry Collection are more than just timepieces. All four models in this series strive to be works of art, miniature portraits to be carried in a frame on your wrist.

Each of these high-end Cartier watches—which cost upward of $80,000—features an animal motif. The Santos 100 is a portrait of a falcon. (To see the steps that go into the making of a Santos 100, see the slide show). The Pasha de Cartier 32mm offers a panda in profile, while the Pasha de Cartier 42mm has a stylized snake theme. The Large Model Tortue Watch is a veritable turtle on your wrist.

Made by hand and released in limited edition, each watch is unique, the product of several weeks of painstaking detail work combining gold, diamonds, enamel, and wood.

As the name of the collection suggests, this line of watches represents the marriage of two artisan crafts: enameling and wood marquetry. Enameling—which became part of the Cartier repertoire in the late 19th century, when Louis Cartier borrowed the technique from famed Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé after a trip to Russia—is a process in which the craftsman melts colored glass powders onto metal to form a smooth, hard, and often brightly colored shell.


  Wood marquetry—historically a craft linked primarily with furniture design—involves overlaying a surface with small, meticulously carved pieces of wood that form a picture or design. Both of these crafts add color, depth, and texture to the gold backdrop of the watch dial and case.

For these watches, Cartier uses a specific enameling process called champlevé (French for "raised field"). This technique requires first that the jeweler carve a shallow cell out of the gold surface of the watch, then, drop by drop, add colored glass powder in successive layers. After the addition of each layer, the watch frame goes into a kiln to be fired at exactly 840ºC (1,544ºF). After the final firing, the enamel has hardened to be perfectly level with the gold surface surrounding it.

Wood marquetry begins with a selection of materials. Supplied with a sketch of the design, the marquetry maker must choose the proper wood to represent each separate color and shape. Then he precision-carves each piece separately and stains it to achieve the proper tint. Finally, the pieces are reassembled in a miniscule jigsaw puzzle, stuck together with a gentle adhesive, and sanded down for a consistently smooth surface. In some cases, the marquetry maker can even integrate stone chips with the wood.

Combined, these two crafts add an element of creative artistry that the everyday watch lacks. In addition to supplying both color and texture, the elements of enamel and wood engender a rustic atmosphere that balances the watch's mechanical side. These watches do not limit themselves to just keeping the time; they aspire to artistry and natural beauty as miniature framed portraits worn on the wrist.

To see how the watch frames are made, click here for the slide show.

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