Piaget - Altiplano
Superlative craftsmanship and creativity are embedded in Piaget’s genes. There is no limit to the expressions of this artistry, sometimes involving techniques rarely used in watchmaking.
Gifted artisans exercise their skills using time-honoured gestures while displaying the naturally discreet reserve of those for whom excellence is a daily habit.
Scrimshaw is an engraving art born in the 18th century. It was a pastime for whalers who often had little to keep them occupied while on ship. Whale or walrus teeth were used as a medium for this engraving, along with the bones of certain mammals. Many of the scenes depicted were fishing scenes, or reproductions of book illustrations. 18th century sailors used sail-canvas needles and soot or even tobacco juice to colour and accentuate the motifs.
This art has not substantially changed, and yesterday’s precise and delicate gestures remain very much the same today. Scrimshaw is a needle-type engraving technique, which means the base must be extremely dense and perfectly smooth so as to permit the tracing of fine lines. The need to protect certain endangered species has led artists to find new materials suited to their work. Fossilised mammoth teeth has thus replaced ivory and whale’s teeth. This strangely beautiful material may be up to 40,000 years old.
To engrave and decorate its dials, Piaget enlisted the talent of one of the most well-known and reputed artisans in this domain.
A true master of this art that calls for comprehensive knowledge of drawing and engraving, Richard Maier decided to create a dazzling ‘world map’ dial.
Piaget drew inspiration from ancient maps and once again takes us on a journey around the earth.
The seas and continents appear to take shape around the globe, as the artist’s work creates a domed effect and the engraving with dots that are more or less closely positioned or deeply incised creates an impression of depth and relief. The incredible details composing this fascinating depiction of the world can indeed only be properly seen under a magnifying glass. The needles and tiny gravers are sharpened with diamond files so as to achieve surprisingly precise lines.
After engraving the dial, the artisan brings the motif to life by delicately applying ink that reveals the finesse of the details and accentuating the contrasts. Permeating the matter to its very depths, the black colour highlights the artist’s work, while the subtly shaded reflection of the light lends a matt appearance to the non-inked dots – thereby making the map look as if it were drawn on parchment.
The Altiplano 38mm models in pink or white gold with a ‘world map’ dial will delight connoisseurs and collectors of exceptional models.
The so-called “bullino” technique was developed by Italian engravers. This form of expertise was traditionally reserved for the luxurious ornamentation of knives and hunting weapons. It is named after the dedicated tool used by the Italian masters. This engraving, so fine that it can only be done under a microscope, follows a whole series of lines and dots. The effect is achieved according to the varying degrees of pressure applied.
Piaget gives pride of place to this technique in decorating the dial of its Altiplano models with a horse motif of which the life-sized drawing is first reproduced using tracing paper and a pencil on the gold dial. With his eyes glued to the microscope, the artisan begins engraving the contours of the horse using a fine metal needle, after which the shiny parts of the animal are done using the bullino technique. Extreme care is devoted to each detail. The background is crafted using a diamond tip. The part of the horse that must appear in grey is bullino-engraved at a 90° angle, whereas the section that must be much darker is done at a 80° angle. The artisan works with a zoom function to finalise the engraving.
He then applies an oxidising product to lend a touch of colour, and moves on to polishing with wooden pegs and a polishing paste that adds brilliance. A last layer of black colour is then applied to the whole, before a further polishing operation.
Throughout this complex engraving, the artisan sharpens his tools with diamond and ceramic discs so that they have the cutting edge and precision of a scalpel.
This masterful skill is admirably showcased in the Piaget collections.
Richard Maier – The Portrait of A Master Engraver
Entering Richard Maier’s world of hand engraving is discovering unparalleled craftsmanship and an unrelenting passion for a dying craft. One of the oldest art forms, man has always found ways of embellishing objects around him: carving a mammoth’s tooth, engraving a bone or a horn. Austrian engraver “Ritchi” Maier has dedicated the past 30 years to both the preservation and advancement of this ancient craft. With prowess, he has mastered two distinctive techniques: Bullino or dot engraving on steel with a fine burin delivering almost photographic quality designs, and the art of Scrimshaw, the 18th and 19th century whaler’s practice of etchings made in whale bone or ivory emphasized with coloured pigments.
Destined to become an artist, the young Maier spent his early years drawing and painting, bringing the world around him to life through his pictures. He eventually found his way to engraving school in his native Austria to learn what has become a disappearing craft. Absolute precision, a steady hand and artistic flair are the qualities he soon achieved, as he embarked on a career as engraver that eventually led him to set up Trompeter & Ritchi, an atelier based near Stuttgart renowned for producing some of the finest Bullino engravings and Scrimshaw in the world.
Loyal to the early techniques he mastered three decades ago, Maier still uses a traditional hammer and chisel engraver. With the tools he builds himself, he skilfully etches thousands of small lines and dots into the material he has chosen to engrave using a microscope. It can take up to 700 hours to create just one piece. Patiently, Maier engraves the hundreds of points and lines per square millimetre creating the textures and contrasts that form the detailed designs. Often inspired by the magic of Africa and its rich wildlife, first the form, then the coat and the face of an animal appears, ingeniously etched a luxury hunting gun, a handcrafted knife, a bone or a tooth depending on the technique he has chosen.
Like a poet shaping verses to compose a sonnet, or an artist choosing colours for his canvas, Maier’s meticulous engraving process transforms precious metals, steel or bone into a one-of-a-kind works of art. Just like the engravers who came centuries before him and have so greatly influenced him, Maier is determined to establish his very own artistic legacy. While preserving a noble craft for future generations, he is ensuring that his unique engraving will be remembered for its own distinctive style. Always on a mission to break new boundaries for his craft, Maier now embarks on his first collaboration with a watch brand sharing his savoir-faire with Piaget.