written by Darcy Bucci Keverian
LAITMYLK takes an in depth, social distanced friendly iPhone tour at the crafts and processes that go into the making the Cartier timepieces at the Cartier Fine Watchmaking Manufacture and Maison Des Metiers D'Art
Louis-Francois Cartier opened his modest jewellery workshop and boutique in 1847 - which for those with poor mental mathematics is a grand total of 173 years ago.
At these humble beginnings, how was Louis-Francois himself to know just how profound and impacting the brand would be and flourish to become? The universally acknowledged name which acts as a symbol for optimum glamour and unapologetic luxury... and all in the form of a diamond.
Having indubitably grown to become the leading brand of haute joaillerie today, the brand has set its sights on the world of haute horlogerie - horology being the study of watches.
Already with the Poinçon de Genève certification for its Calibre 9452 MC Ballon Bleu Flying Tourbillon, Cartier looks to the horizon of sunsets and sunrises to evolve into taking over the world of watchmaking.
I am priviledged enough to, despite these Coronavirus circumstances, be technologically invited behind the scenes where the magic happens...
Fine Watchmaking Manufacture
An icicle palace of expansive marble, glass and light beechwood create an atmosphere that is decidedly Cartier. And this is only the entrance.
The offices may surprise you by being a colour palette of relatively simple and cool colours: blue, grey and beige, punctuated with pale wood. However, a relatively vast selection of luxury and designer furniture does set the tone for the floor in general.
A further accent of delight and environmental calm is that upon every roof there is a rich abundance of plants in wooded sites, generating an overall feeling of traqnuility and oneness with nature... from which all inspiration is sourced and digested by the scrupulous designer team.
The manufacturing trip is organised around three axes: development, production and customer service. One cannot function without the other - think of it as a tryptych of dominos, falling and rising in succession as the prior triggers the latter.
The main mission above all else for a member of the Cartier-composing-family is to develop and deliver watches of the highest quality; simultaneously safeguarding its future and expertise. Training, thus, is an essential facet at Cartier.
The skills and craft of watchmaking are inarguably of the highest standard in the world. On par with the likes of Patek and De Rolex. With a petticoat of quality and the underpinnings truly remain stitched in place by ever advancing research and commitment into the very mastery of watchmaking.
A falcon beacon of 3,000sq ft expanding four floors is where the dedication solely to research and development resides within this location. Dunbed as the “Think Tank project”, approximately 100 employees are situated in this region, and remain in charge of design, prototypes, mechanics and the general running the laboratory.
Meeting after meeting, analysis leading to more analysis, and a perpetual desire flr improvement leads to the slow and steady process of a prototype becoming a real product. A flurry of continuous modifications and ideas is how these watchful delights are brought into reality.
Maison des Métiers d’Art
Located a stone’s throw away from the Manufacturing home I have introduced to you above is Cartier’s Maison des Métiers d’Art. A surprisingly quaint, Bernese-style farm dating from the end of the 18th century, the Maison des Métiers d’Art, which actually reminds us of the whimsical antiquity underlying the combination of tradition and modernity.
The creation of the Maison des Métiers d’Art represents a pioneering act wherein Cartier is harnessing the reigns of enhancing tradition with contemporary culture, with the end goal being to carry forth the humble beginnings of Monsieur Cartier... with an ever advancing and craving population. Give us more glitz! Give us more glamour! But give us the old age charm of the brand we all know and love - unchanged.
Now for the floors upon which the true craftsmanship unravels...
The first and second floors of the Maison des Métiers d’Art are occupied by 28 craftsmen. Sounds quite small doesn't it? The primary floor is solely decoted to jewellery crafting, while the second is home to enamel and marquetry. They work in harmony with one another like a calmic game of ping pong, batting ideas and exchanging creative quirks as the watches and jewels begin to take form.
From gold cloisonné work, to arranging stones into mosaics, hand painting, floral marquetry, enameling, and intaglio engraving...
There is nothing these craftsman cannot do.
Speficially in ode to metalworking, this is on the first floor. Think of metalworking as the skeleton of the body; without it, no jewel. No necklace. No watch, ring or cuff.
Traditional and seemingly obvious crafting is where it all commences: gem-setting, jewellery-making and polishing. The jeweller is given the arduous but satisfying task of the open-work design of the piece, preparing the cavities that will hold the gems, and creating the outline to what will be a very heftily priced finalé...
The piece is then handed to the master gemsetter who attaches the stones one by one, no Noah, not two by two: one by one. The level of patience is unmatched to any other luxury trade.
Polishing a piece you may be surprised to learn is actually the single most decisive stage, as it's this gentle and almost mothering process that will determine the level of shine and sparkle, and also the comfort upon the wearer.
Only the most experienced of gem-setters can execute this highly technical step.
Then of course there are some newer methods of crafting which weave into the first floor also, such as granulation and filigree work.
Granulation can be likened to sowing seeds of gold, where beads are created from gold wires that are cut up, rolled in charcoal dust and heated with a flame. The gold beads are then assembled one by one and fused with a gold sheet in order to create the relief of the motif.
The art of filigree work is applied in creating a variety of Cartier’s signature motifs. Gold or platinum wires are twisted and flattened with a hammer, then shaped and soldered into the motif.
As an example, the 2015 Ronde Louise Cartier panthers motif watch (featured as the final photograph at the end of this article) combined filigree work with the application of lacquer and gem-setting.
The filigree work alone for this sublime piece took 10 days to complete.
On the second floor, the craftsmen work with fire and enamel in its various forms. Enamel is treated at high temperatures at different steps of the processes in order to obtain the desired state and colours.
They are then applied in various methods to create anything from translucent enamel motifs, to creating a backdrop with depth over which gold paste is applied, to being used as paint.
Each process will require different amounts of blazen fires in order to achieve the most exquisite colours and finishes.
Floral marquetry is yet another rare craftpracticed by the craftsmen at Cartier. The rose petals are selected for their colours, texture and specific characteristics.
They are cut into tiny pieces then assembled on a miniature scale on the dial to form the motif.
Only the steadiest of hands and the keenest eye for detail would be able to complete this task.
And it is to these elfen like year long cartier christmas helpers that we thank... for eternally endowing us with crystallised and wonderous delights for both the eye and body to behold.