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Artistic Dials - Face Time

Artistic Dials Face Time

Your watch is more than a time-telling device; it can also be a showcase for various branches of art…

Question: What do a legendary high-fantasy illustrator, a traditional artisan, a streetwear designer and a children’s author all have in common?

Answer: Their work is featured on a fine mechanical watch.

Mechanical clocks and watches have always been vehicles for artistic expression. During the first few centuries of mechanical horology, personal timepieces were affordable only for the wealthy, and were highly decorated in order to indicate their exclusivity. Even relatively modest-looking examples were nevertheless constructed with refined materials — polished gold, vitreous enamel, discreetly set seed pearls and so on. The democratisation of personal timepieces due to mass industrialisation only really began towards the end of the 19th century and took hold in the early to mid-20th century. Despite the massive shift towards high-volume production, watches never really lost their decorative aspect. The Quartz Crisis of the 1970s in fact brought it back in concentrated form, since mechanical watches were now vastly outpaced in terms of utilitarian value. Mechanical watches went back to being a strong signifier of social status, and its exterior reflected this accordingly.


Artistic Dials

Anita Porchet enamelling the dial of the Code 11.59 Grand Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie © Audemars Piguet

The closest thing to a blank canvas that a watch has is its dial. This is not to say that watch cases or straps aren’t subject to decoration, but cases have all those tricky angles and curves to work around, and straps are barely visible once the watch is worn. Dials and dial covers are mostly flat, mostly plain — the ideal setting for a little aesthetic flourish. Additionally, they offer the opportunity to spotlight collaborations with artists, designers and other creatives that you wouldn’t expect to see within a horological context. Cross-pollination of enthusiast communities often takes place as a result. And when it comes to visual scope, as long as it fits within that small circular space, anything goes.

Audemars Piguet

A kickass watch needs a kickass dial. That’s only logical. Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 Grande Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie sits at the apex of chiming watches made by the Le Brassus company. The Supersonnerie, which was first presented in 2015 as the Royal Oak Concept RD1, is more than just a watch designation — it is an accumulation of highly specialised expertise and research applied to the acoustics of a chiming watch. Clearly, a watch this elevated requires the touch of an equally exalted artist, and so Audemars Piguet went straight to the similarly initialled Anita Porchet. The paillonné enamel dial echoes the watch: rooted in tradition yet resolutely contemporary, with geometric gold elements embedded in translucent grand feu vitreous enamel.

Artistic Dials

Code 11.59 Grand Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie © Audemars Piguet


Released just today, the Girard-Perregaux 1966 East to West is simultaneously a nod to a significant chapter in the brand’s history and also a step in a completely new direction. The 18-piece limited edition celebrates 160 years of Girard-Perregaux’s commercial relationship with Japan, and was created in collaboration with streetwear designer Darren Romanelli, also known as DRx. Romanelli’s longstanding affinity for Japan and Japanese culture, alongside his past collaborations with partners such as Coca-Cola, Nike and rap icon Kendrick Lamar, make him the ideal designer to put a fresh spin on the emblematic Girard-Perregaux 1966. An onyx dial with a metalised DRx logo, combined with rose-gold GP logo and hands, creates a studied play of textures and light that speaks to the subtlety within Japanese art and the style of watchmaking at Girard-Perregaux.

Face Time

1966 East to West © Girard-Perregaux


This is not an example of dial art, per se. It’s something even better — it’s dial-cover art, tactile and inviting, open to the touch. The Arceau Pocket Aaaaargh! Minute Repeater portrays a snarling T. Rex on its dial cover, playfully belying the delicate melody hidden within. As with most Hermès watches that incorporate some form of artisanal decorative technique, the dinosaur motif is taken from an Hermès silk square, this one created by artist Alice Shirley, writer and illustrator of two best-selling children’s books. The dinosaur is executed in leather mosaic and marquetry, with its glowering eye formed out of a translucent enamel cabochon. The ferocity of the T. Rex is matched only by the fiercely technical movement, which combines a chiming function with a flying tourbillon.

Face Time

Arceau Pocket Aaaaargh ! Minute Repeater © Hermès

Jaquet Droz

The Petite Heure Minute has long been the model of choice to highlight the mastery of artistic crafts at Jaquet Droz. Miniature painting, paillonné enamel, 3D micro-sculpture and exquisite lapidary dials have all featured strongly in the watches of Jaquet Droz.  These watches, with their classic round cases and understated design forming the perfect framework for artisanal techniques. Recently the La Chaux-de-Fonds company announced a design partnership with renowned artist John Howe, famed for his definitive visualisation of the J.R.R Tolkien high-fantasy world (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other associated novels). Although the end results of this collaboration have yet to be unveiled, it’s certain that the combination of Howe’s imagination with the decorative expertise of Jaquet Droz will be utterly breathtaking.

Face Time

John Howe © Jaquet Droz

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