In some ways, Jaquet Droz is the brand that time forgot. Were it not for the silicon-enhanced automatic movements that power its two newest timepieces, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were impeccably preserved relics from founder Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s 18th-century heyday. That’s because the esoteric technique of paillonné enameling that decorates the dials of the new “Fleur de Lys” Grande Seconde Paillonné and “Fleur de Vie” Petite Heure Minute Paillonné belongs to a 300-year-old tradition rarely seen in contemporary watchmaking.
The technique, which Jaquet-Droz used to decorate his trademark singing bird boxes and pocket watches, begins with a gold dial embellished with guilloché work. With every layer of translucent enamel, the dial is fired in the oven. Next, artisans tuck thin strips of gold leaf — the “paillon” — between the layers of enamel, forming motifs that are then covered with translucent enamel to form a protective coat on the design. The result is a dial with a startling degree of luminosity.
“Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a virtuoso of these techniques and thanks to him, among others, the art of paillonné enameling was at its zenith in the 18th century,” says CEO Christian Lattmann, citing a piece housed in the Jaquet Droz Museum, a pocket watch paillonnée with translucent blue enamel set with pearls that was made for the Chinese market around 1785-1790.
At the Jaquet Droz Ateliers d’Art in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, the brand is carrying on the specialised craft with two 18k red gold models, each limited to just eight pieces. The 43 mm Grande Seconde Paillonné, which retails for around £33,000, features a fleur de lys motif that evokes a heraldic tradition belonging to European kings and emperors, while the 35 mm Petite Heure Minute Paillonné, which retails for £35,000, is decorated with a geometric design composed of overlapping, interwoven circles.
“Today, it is absolutely fascinating that we actually produce contemporary timepieces using the exact same technique that Pierre Jaquet-Droz used during the 18th century perpetuating this ancestral savoir-faire,” says Lattmann. “When Jaquet Droz craftsmen resuscitated this process, they first used original paillons from that period. Now we have the expertise to produce our own paillons, adding a new emotional dimension to timepieces by blending the gestures of bygone days and modern times, then crowning this art with the unique coloring of Grand Feu enamel.”