Having worked on the various disciplines of gem-setting, design and engraving for a quarter of a century, artisan Dick Steenman embraces each new challenge with an intrigued mind. Take, for example, his adroit execution of a gold-engraved rose on this year’s Altiplano 38mm by Piaget. On an incredibly slim dial, the Dutch artisan sculpts the Piaget rose’s petals to elongate the perceived depth of the engraving.
The intrigue then comes from an optical illusion of volume despite the thinness of material, specifically on the dial. For this, Steenman’s method is to work rhythmically on the petals in a manner where he no longer needs to look at what he’s doing because his movements have become instinctive. In order to achieve this desired plateau of craftsmanship, Steenman prepares himself by getting into a near-meditative state. “Something guides me and I feel like I’m not doing this alone," he says, adding that music sometimes helps to access this plane of inner peace. “That is when my work flows out best – call it magic if you want."
For this particular commission by Piaget, Steenman chose 18k pink gold for its romantic hue. His initial rose sculpture is first polished with diamond powder and later, a rubber polish to give it the right burnish. For Steenman, his craft is the culmination of his accumulated education and training in various decorative arts. A nine-year stint in Japan also helped him understand Asian culture, helping him connect with the country’s high values and respect for craftsmanship as well as their reactions to his work.
“For artisans, our greatest challenge is to transmit some kind of emotion," Steenman says. “I like to compare what we do with musicians, that is, to make the hairs of the audience stand up at a beautiful piece."
He concedes that it is infinitely more difficult for artisans to achieve this, but he’s grateful at least that inspiration is never lacking.
“My greatest inspiration lies in nature; sometimes, when I feel lost, I go for a walk outside my workshop and I find every mathematical equation and idea," he says. “It’s all there – just help yourself to it."