Roaring Into Life At Full Gallop: Hermès Arceau Tigre Email Ombrant
In recent years, high-end luxury watch brands have put quite a bit of emphasis on dials decorated with exquisite artistry, with enamel work being particularly popular. One could even almost describe enamel as the new grail material for dials among quality watch marques.
Along with Jaquet Droz and Ulysse Nardin, La Montre Hermès has been on the frontlines of the recent resurgence of this artistic phenomenon involving molten crushed glass. The launch of the Slim d’Hermès Email is a perfect case in point (email is French for “enamel,” not electronic mail).
While enamel appears to have become the new favorite in dial embellishment because it a pure, elegant, eternally lasting, and traditionally linked material, both brands and the enamel artists themselves are always on the lookout for artistic techniques that will differentiate them from their competitors.
Timepieces with rare dials like these can only be produced in extremely limited series.
One of Hermès’ main horological introductions for 2016 originates in the overriding annual theme, which guides all the creations emerging from the whole of Hermès’ company, extending through all 14 product categories. This year’s theme is “nature at full gallop.”
“We have developed artistic pieces depicting wildlife,” Hermès’ artistic director for watches Philippe Delhotel explained. “We were inspired by creations of the very talented Robert Dallet, an artist who worked with Hermès in the 1980s.”
Even though Dallet, who was famous for his renditions of big cats, passed away a few years ago, his work lives on in 2016 within the many horological scenes related to wildlife on this year’s Hermès watch dials – and particularly visible on an Arceau model called Tigre Email Ombrant, whose name refers to a new enamel-and-engraving approach, which was inspired by a lithographic technique that was used in the Limoges region of France according to a patent by French diplomat Baron Paul de Burgoing as of 1841 (for more on that have a look at this short history of lithophanes).
This technique took two full years to adapt for use on a watch dial.
“Émail ombrant is a very particular technique that combines enameling and a special type of engraving that makes almost no sense if enamel is not added to it,” explains Olivier Vaucher, the Geneva-based artist who developed it for use with these dials, creating the exquisite tiger’s head according to an original Dallet drawing.
When Vaucher had the idea to create a watch dial using the email ombrant technique, he knew that it would take considerable time for him to master the process and that there was no guarantee of success in the end . . . so he called Hermès. Together, they chose the motif with which to introduce this technique.
“We first create an engraving according to the principles of lithography. First, porcelain is worked so that its translucence allows light to pass through desired shapes and spaces. Concretely, the thicker the porcelain is, the less it allows light to pass through, creating darker spaces; where it is thinnest we see the light the most, and here it creates brighter shades. All the shaded nuances take place between these two extremes.”
It is easy to see that light plays a central role in this art form. After Vaucher negative-engraves a wax model, biscuit porcelain is poured into it as if it were a mold. By creating this mold, Vaucher is expressing his artistic work in the reverse way that his eye sees it. In other words, he must be able to imagine the variations in the porcelain’s thickness that create the nuances.
Grey enamel is then added, which makes the nuances even more visible: they emerge as lighter and darker hues reflecting off the white gold underneath – turning the tiger into a true work of art in which even the individual hairs of the tiger’s fur and whiskers are even discernible.
“We begin the process of lithography by first engraving the wax on top of a luminous table,” Vaucher continues. “Then we transform it by inverting the volumes to create a type of mold, which serves to make the first dial. Light penetrates the enamel before being reflected off the white gold below it, creating very special reliefs. The higher reliefs let a lot of light pass through, while the lower ones allow less light through. The latter thus remain more ‘shaded’.”
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Light penetrates the enamel before being reflected off the white gold below it, creating very special reliefs.”[/pullquote]
Vaucher loves to work with both old and new technologies together, utilizing them in the service of beauty, stating, “This is the only way to go beyond what we had in the last century.”
This is the first time that the email ombrant process has been used in watches. “If you want to be original, you have to find a new technique or an interesting design,” Delhotal reiterates.
A close look at the encased dial of the Hermès Arceau Tigre Email Ombrant[/caption]
And design is certainly Hermès’ ace in the hole: all of its compositions are true artistic creations, many of which originate in ideas found in archives and inspired from past creations from any number of the “maison’s” product categories.
Hermès is quite unique in the way that it utilizes the entire breadth of its company to come up with the breathtaking methods and models that grace these collector’s pieces.
The video below by The Watches TV takes the viewer on a tour of Olivier Vaucher’s atelier.
For more information, please visit www.lesailes.hermes.com.
Case: white gold, 41 mm
Dial: white gold with biscuit porcelain and émail ombrant
Functions: hours, minutes
Movement: automatic Hermès Caliber H1837 with 50-hour power reserve
Limitation: 12 pieces
Price: 90,000 Swiss francs