Jean Dunand’s ambitious undertaking to create Pièces Uniques, one of-a-kind timepieces that combine cutting-edge mechanical innovation and aesthetic singularity is a gauntlet few contemporary watchmakers would be able to take up. Thierry Oulevay and Christophe Claret rise to the occasion with this dazzling Tourbillon Orbital; a mesmerizing timepiece where passion for Art Deco design and close involvement with master artisans has conspired in the most brilliant fashion to create an incomparable masterpiece.
Jean Dunand’s stylized interpretation of a 12-point fir tree is the decorative theme of this watch. This design is inspired by the abstract geometric designs and floral motifs prevalent during the Art Deco period that aimed to transmit the essence of an object in its sleekest, most elegant and streamlined form. Capturing the zeitgeist of the 20’s and 30’s the fir-tree pattern radiates from the dial in concentric circles and is set alight with 428 brilliant cut icy diamonds, a beautiful allegory of a winter tree covered in frost that emanates beams of light.
The chapter ring encircling the symbolic fir tree is studded with brilliant cut white diamonds and a solitary black diamond at 12 o’clock set into black gold echoing the Art Deco penchant for elegant black and white tonalities. In line with Jean Dunand’s commitment to fostering métiers d’art, the technique of invisible setting has been used to mount the 92 Top Wesselton baguette diamonds on the bezel and lugs. This meticulous and extremely time-consuming technique allows these opulent stones to shine in all their faceted glory without any visible means of support, dispensing with prongs, claws or other traditional means of securing stones.
Often imitated, but notoriously difficult to accomplish, the objective of invisible setting is to make the mount of the setting vanish into thin air, making it indistinguishable to the human eye. Developed and honed in the ateliers of haute joaillerie, invisible settings allow craftsmen to breathe life and form into their jewellery without the constraints and aesthetic interference of traditional settings.
However, unlike high jewellery pieces that are often designed and inspired around the specific features of a stone, Jean Dunand’s craftsmen invert the process. At Jean Dunand the thematic and conceptual features of each timepiece are given pride of place so that the design is not limited or conditioned by the stones. The theme dictates the direction and the overriding challenge for our craftsmen is to bring to life a flat 2-dimensional design. Once a mock-up of the timepiece has been elaborated and the position of each stone determined, does the lapidary source the stones. Having selected the appropriate gems, the next stage involves cutting the stones, a task that demands consummate skill. More often than not, the dictates of the design mean that almost half the stone is sacrificed during this procedure. But this is just the beginning of this meticulous odyssey.
Underneath the gleaming surface of the case and lugs lies a miniature world of support systems to anchor the diamonds in place. To confer solidity to the structure, the rose gold undercarriage of the invisible setting needs to be at least 2mm thick and explains why invisible set pieces contain more gold than traditionally set ones.
The heart of the invisible setting -hailed as the sine qua non of gem setting- relies upon an ingenious set of tiny rails. However, before all 92 baguette cut diamonds are placed on the rails, channels or grooves are cut along the sides of each gem. Here the talent of the stone cutter is put to the test when 1/10th of a millimeter is all that separates one stone from the next. Mistakes come at a high price and three days’ work can be lost in a matter of seconds.
A special “door” at one end of the track allows the stones to be slid along the rails and held in place side by side without any further consolidation and thanks to the special doors, stones can be easily repaired or replaced.
Confecting a watch of this complexity and beauty requires the craftsman to adopt the precision of a mathematician, the 3-dimensional vision of an architect and the patience that only experience can confer. Watching the flying tourbillion orbit the sumptuous 8-carat constellation of precious diamonds on this timepiece is a truly unique and magical spectacle of light in motion.