the dial expert takes cues from embroidery techniques to Coco Chanel’s own Chinese Coromandel screens
“For us at Chanel, the term métiers d’art is not a new term; it’s a term we use a lot in couture in particular and in ready-to-wear," says Nicolas Beau, global head of watches and fine jewellery. “It’s something that is part of our world." For Chanel as a whole, this is particularly true. The company has long prided itself on its network of métiers d’art specialty suppliers, and in recent years it has acquired a number of them — including Maison Lesage, the famous embroidery atelier, and the plumassier (feather specialist) Lemarié — to not only preserve these resources but ensure the survival of their crafts.
Chanel’s limited collection of artisanal timepieces seems to perfectly reflect the level of these crafts in its couture offerings, but this is only a relatively recent development. Less than a decade ago the brand’s watchmaking was far more conventional, and Beau, a watch-industry veteran, was determined to grow a new category beginning with the most respected artisan in watchmaking: master enamelist Anita Porchet.
The brand approached Porchet in 2010. She rebuffed them at first, but they persisted and made an offer she could not resist: a trip to Paris to visit Coco Chanel’s private apartment above the flagship boutique and workshops at 31 Rue Cambon. Chanel used this suite of rooms for entertaining and events while she resided across the Place Vendôme in a suite at the Ritz.
The Rue Cambon apartment is overflowing with artworks that Chanel collected over her lifetime, including her beloved Chinese Coromandel screens, named for the coastal region of India from where they were exported to the West.
In all, Porchet produced three thematic series of 10 Coromandel dials in grand feu enamel between 2012 and 2016. But for Beau and the other members of the development team at Chanel, it was just the start of a creative exploration into their own métiers d’art network. For example, attending an embroidery workshop at Lesage not only endowed Beau with new needlework skills but sparked the idea of creating watch dials embellished with embroidery.
Chanel challenged the artisans at Lesage to develop a technique to produce decorative embroidery that would be at and durable enough for a watch dial. They researched materials and the kinds of threads they could use to stitch the brand’s signature camellia on a dial with different colored threads, using a technique called peinture à l’aiguille (needlework painting).
Limited to 18 pieces, the Mademoiselle Privé Camélia Brodé won the award for best artistic craft watch at the industry’s annual Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2013. The brand followed up with a second series embellished with embroidery in silver and gold threads, sequins, and seed pearls.
The rich content of the Coromandel screens has remained a wellspring. Chanel has revisited these motifs with new techniques, including engraved gold and glyptic, a form of mineral carving that produces lustrous high relief. The brand is also returning to the roots of the collection in other ways: Beau reveals that Chanel is currently developing a new grand feu enamel project with Porchet that it expects to reveal at Baselworld next year, no doubt with a fresh take on the brand’s seemingly endless font of artistic inspiration.