The panther has become so synonymous with Cartier that any jewellery iterations of the majestic animal outside of the Parisian house appear mere copies. Starting in the 1920s, the maison’s famed director of jewellery and former lover of Louis Cartier, Jeanne Toussaint, made the slinky feline a perennial inspiration. Cartier affectionately called Toussaint “PanPan,” and her Paris apartment was said to be strewn with the animal’s skins. But the Duchess of Windsor is credited with making the spotted creature a fashion symbol when, in 1949, she was photographed wearing one of the first 3D Panthère creations: a brooch set atop a 152.35-carat Kashmir sapphire given to her by her husband, the former Edward VIII. In 2010, a bracelet version of the feline figure worn by the socialite sold at Sotheby’s London for US$7.23 million (approximately RM29.5 million).
A century later, the elegant panther is still making Cartier’s clients purr. The brand’s latest homage to its icon comes encapsulated in a 42 mm white-gold Ronde Louis Cartier timepiece, limited to 30, each individually numbered. Slices of straw marquetry, gold and enamel, handcrafted by artisans at the company’s specialised Métiers d’Art atelier in Switzerland, come together in a colourful tableau to form the visage of one of the world’s most beautiful beasts.
Cartier transformed a farmhouse into the setting of its Maison des Métiers d’Art in Switzerland’s La Chaux-de-Fonds watchmaking region. Inside, some 16,000 square feet of floor space is dedicated to blending ancient craftsmanship with watchmaking expertise.
In Living Colour
This wall highlights the many shades of enameling to show how the colours will look when they take shape on the dial.
A Fine Line
Tiny paintbrushes, the size of a handful of hair strands, are used to paint the enamel of the dial.
In The Reeds
Seventy-five blades of straw, in assorted sizes and eleven colours, make up the face of the panther.
A Nice Slice
The straw used in the marquetry must be finely sliced to length before it’s unfolded with a bone tool. The fibres are then flattened, soaked and softened in cold, warm and hot water. Finally, each is ironed flat.
The gold marquetry is created through parts that have been laser-cut into particular shapes to replicate the nuances of a panther’s form and shadowing. Each part must be cleaned, polished and manually curved before it is placed on the dial.
Cut And Past
An artisan uses a paper outline to match the coloured straw to the exact specs of each laser-cut gold shape to form a colourful 3D effect.
Various instruments, including tweezers and a scalpel, are used to trim and place the minute different pieces of coloured straw onto the dial.
A microscope is required to enable the miniature details of the dial to be perfected. Each piece requires more than a hundred hours of work, 97 of which are exclusively for the dial.
The pattern of the panther begins to take shape as the craftsman applies the enamel powder, mixed with water, in the required holes by hand with a very fine brush.
Drawers contain 500 colours of powder used to create the enamel elements on the dial. For this piece, six hues were employed to bring the panther’s eyes and black spots to life.
Heat Of The Moment
To secure the enamel in place on the dial, it must first be fired in a kiln at around 800 degrees Celcius. The temperature is then adjusted to obtain the correct colourations for each of the separate enamel settings. It must be cooked ten times to achieve the final result.
A watchmaker peers through a loupe to assemble the extra-flat manual movement in the case.
The culmination of many hours of painstaking work, the masterpiece is finally ready to top off the watch mechanism.
The finishing touch, before the strap is added, is the protective 18-karat white-gold case, which will preserve the wearable art.
Previously published on Robb Report.