Ecole des Métiers et Artisans de Haute Horlogerie Hand engraving returns to Geneva
WorldTempus had the opportunity to find out more about the new hand engraving course being offered from this year at the Ecole des Métiers et Artisans de Haute Horlogerie.
Beginning this autumn, the Haute Horlogerie campus in Geneva is offering a federal certification course in hand engraving, taught in Meyrin in collaboration with the School of Applied Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The course, initiated by Campus Director Roland Hirschi, is part of the wider vocation of the Ecole des Métiers et Artisans de Haute Horlogerie to be a forum for dialogue and knowledge exchange, with a view to promoting and strengthening the Haute Horlogerie professions. Since the school is open to organisations outside the Richemont group, Chopard has been able to place one of its apprentices in an engraving class. At the end of the four-year course she will return to the Geneva company’s own workshops. The other students in the class of 2016 are sponsored by Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels.
The art of engraving
The engraver creates and executes work in relief or intaglio, with hand tools or by machine, using materials including steel, brass, copper, gold, silver, pewter, plastic, mother-of-pearl and wood. In watchmaking, engraving may take the form of figurative designs, geometric figures or stylised foliage, designs that are often found on watch dials, cases or movement parts. Whatever technique is used to create them, engravings may play a decorative role, or they might serve as an identifying feature (source: La Terminaison by Giulio Papi).
Natural dexterity, patience, attention to detail, spatial awareness, a talent for drawing and good taste are some of the qualities that make a good engraver. But, as Quentin Bogousslavsky, an independent engraver and one of the instructors on the course, notes, “A determination to succeed is vital, because motivation alone is what will drive the continuous practice essential to the acquisition of skill, a good eye, and the technical and artistic knowledge essential to becoming a good engraver.” It’s a very demanding skill, and one in which there is always something more to learn.
Guaranteeing the future of the craft
It’s beyond question that, over time, the engraving profession has largely died out. To explain this phenomenon, Quentin Bogousslavsky cites several factors (applicable to watchmaking), including the extremely wide range of technical and creative skills required, prevailing conditions in the watch industry, the policies of watch brands, and a lack of communication about the profession between the companies involved. Nevertheless, there is strong interest in the craft, as can be seen from the twenty or more candidates who applied for a place on the course. After a series of theory tests, eight candidates were shortlisted and called in for a day of practical tests. In the end, three young women with very different profiles were chosen to take the first engraving course leading to federal certification (CFC).
The main topics that will be covered in the first year are techniques of design and perspective, basic engraving (so-called 2D engraving) and micromechanics. Sound abilities in this latter area are vital to an engraver, in order to ensure an understanding of the materials with which he or she will be working, and mastery of the skills required to make the necessary tools. During their training, students will be introduced to various forms of engraving, including intaglio and relief engraving and chasing. The aim of the 4th year engraving project, a requirement ahead of the final exam, is to consolidate all the expertise the students have acquired. Quentin Bogousslavsky, working with the companies and people concerned, and in accordance with what the apprentice has demonstrated throughout her training, will set the work to be executed.
Roland Hirschi and his team have no plans to stop their good work. A training course in enamelling – something not currently available – will be offered by the Ecole des Métiers et Artisans de Haute Horlogerie from September 2017.