The exquisite dial of the Tourbillon Orbital, embellished with geometric shapes and rich Chinese lacquer, is a fitting tribute to the craftsman and Ar t Deco ar tist Jean Dunand, the guiding aesthetic light behind the formidable watchmaking duo formed by Thierry Oulevay and Christophe Claret.
This unique masterpiece is the quintessence of the founders’ philosophy that combines a passion for métiers d’art – rekindling long lost traditional craft techniques such as the art of lacquering- with revolutionary technology powering this unique tourbillion. Not only does this watch feature a one-minute flying tourbillon that completes a full orbit every sixty seconds, but the entire tourbillon continuously rotates around the dial, completing an entire circle every hour. A watchmaking first and with innumerable technical challenges such as transmission of winding energy to the barrel that is never in one fixed place.
The bold geometric figures and solid colours on the dial celebrate Jean Dunand’s incursion into the abstract geometric style fashionable in the 1920’s. Like the pocket watch cases that were exhibited in those years featuring geometric designs and bright lacquer colours, the stunning application of Chinese lacquer on the Tourbillon Orbital transcends its common use as a protective varnish and becomes an intrinsic, integral part of the decoration.
An ancient technique that is painstaking, unpredictable and extremely complicated to master, Thierry Oulevay invested 2 whole years researching the almost mystical world of lacquer to achieve this splendid dial. The technical challenge included developing novel ways to apply lacquer on the diminutive surface of the dial while respecting the contours of the sharp 90° angles, the circumference of the round window displaying the orbital tourbillion and the tiny cavity of the zigzag rhomboids with millimetrical precision.
A similar kind of passion consumed Swiss craftsman Jean Dunand who revealed his inestimable know-how in the art of dinanderie -or bronze embossing- in exchange for Japanese master lacquer Seizo Sugawara’s millenary secrets of lacquering in 1912. Jean Dunand’s fabulously embossed vases and other ar tistic creations would soon be embellished with this precious resin and his name would become synonymous with the sublime art of lacquering.
Art historians agree that China was the birthplace of the art of lacquering following the discovery of a red lacquer wood bowl dating to the Neolithic period in Zhejiang well over 7,000 years ago. Initially used to protect everyday objects from water, acid and alkaline elements, the art of lacquering came into its golden age with the splendid Han Dynasty (202BC- 220 AD) adorning precious objects for the imperial court and combining coloured lacquer with gold and silver inlays.
The Rhus Vernicifera or lacquer tree occurs naturally in China and has been cultivated for millennia for its sap that is collected by tapping the trees and bleeding them at very precise intervals. Traditionally, the precious liquid is sieved through a fine cloth to remove impurities and left to settle, clarify and separate for several months in a dark, damp, cool environment.
The creation of coloured lacquer is a complex process combining powdered vegetable pigments and Tung oil that are notoriously difficult to blend. But the real challenge lies in applying nature’s wonderful gift. Much like working with liquid honey, lacquer has to be applied slowly and great care exerted to avoid leaving trails or traces in each coat
Traditionally, paintbrushes confected from Chinese human hair were employed because marten hair and other animal origin hair were deemed too thick. The environment has to be impeccably clean because the slightest particle of dust will be embedded for posterity in the lacquer.
In keeping with Jean Dunand’s patronage of métiers d’art, master lacquer painters were selected from one of the very few Western workshops capable of manipulating this wonderful material to execute the lacquering details on the dial of the Tourbillon Orbital. Using the champlevé technique to create a recessed pattern to house the lacquer, troughs or cells are hollowed into the gold base. Once the areas have been clearly demarcated, the lacquer –up to 10 individual coats- is applied layer by layer. Each layer must be perfectly dry before its surface is buffed and smoothed with charcoal and then meticulously polished to acquire its unique lustrous sheen.
The dial of the Tourbillon Orbital features red, grey, rich indigo and black lacquered geometric shapes, each colour emanating a distinct warm luster and depth. True to the Art Deco personality of the dial, the skyscraper hands are skeletal allowing for a clear view of the magnificent canvas.
The diamond hour markers on the chapter ring and the 18-carat rose gold case provide the perfect frame for this sumptuous lacquered dial that sets geometry in mot ion: a formidable and unique artistic accomplishment.