Luxury watch brand, Parmigiani Fleurier, recently unveiled its marquetry-inspired Pershing Samba Madeira at its flagship boutique in London. WatchPro got to chat to Emilie Jacquot, Parmigiani’s brand editor, and Bastien Chevalier, the artist behind the incredible marquetry.
We spoke to Emilie about the new Samba Madeira.
WatchPro: What is marquetry?
Emilie: In layman terms it’s a jigsaw – a wooden jigsaw.
WatchPro: How did the collaboration between Bastien and Parmigiani come about?
Emilie: The first time Bastien worked with Parmigiani was on a UK based topic. It was on this watch here, the Tonda Woodrock, with the Union Jack. Basically it was drawn by one of our designers in-house, who had heard of Bastien and his art and submitted the design to him. And because he is one of the very few who can go into such intricate detail, we went on and produced a number of pieces: the US version (the Tonda Woodstock), a table clock, and it goes on. But it’s mostly a happy meeting for us because we have very elaborate and precise designs and it’s very intricate, and Bastien is one of the few who can go to this level of precision.
WatchPro: Marquetry is a specialised skill, so how did Bastien come to be able to master the art?
Emilie: Bastien started off as a wood sculptor and he specialised in various furniture pieces, so he had a very strong knowledge of the various types of wood essences that there are. He wanted to pursue in that direction and he was lucky enough to meet one of the best marquetry artisans/craftsmen that are around. He was stunned by that art and he had never seen it on such small pieces, so he went on and became a marquetor. He then trained in marquetry for 5 years and has been working as an independent marquetor for 11 years after that.
WatchPro: Aside from Parmigiani, what sort of other projects has Bastien worked on?
Emilie: There was one defining moment five years ago when marquetry became popular on watch dials. So before that, until four or five years ago, he would work on frescos of what you see here, kind of sculptures with wooden decorations. Then five years ago there was a new interest in marquetry on watch dials. It’s where he started off, and now for the past two years it’s been growing and growing. More and more brands want to use marquetry and he’s been doing that almost exclusively. Before it would be marquetry on pendulums and bigger objects, but now there’s a really big interest in watch dials. So because of this evolution from bigger and bigger works of art to tiny watch dials, he feels he’s become much more precise and he’s started working on much more intricate segments of wood than before.
WatchPro: Talking about precision, what sizes of wood do you actually work with?
Emilie: He wants to show you the trumpet that goes on the Samba Madeira. The trumpet on it, is hand-drawn, hand-traced, hand-cut, hand-assembled. There is nothing machine-driven behind this.
WatchPro: How complicated is it to bring the art of marquetry to watches compared to the other objects that Bastien works with?
Emilie: Watch dials are definitely the hardest; it’s directly linked to the reduction in size. The smaller it gets, the more intricate. For instance, the Samba Madeira dial took him over a month of work to get all the detail. There’s a trend whereby you start with slightly bigger pieces of wood and then you start reducing. If you consider the Union Jack piece, which was our first, some of the segments of wood were very fine, like the strings of the guitar. But mostly the segments are slightly bigger. And now the most recent creation is the Tonda Mambo, you can see here how intricate it is. Every single line is a fragment of wood and the shirt actually has a pattern to it.
Another trend – the trend that was definitely used for the Tonda Mambo – is to play with the natural textures of the wood to generate certain atmospheres. For instance, the face and the skin of this Latino guitar player is in a specific type of wood so that it has a natural skin grain to it. This is not coloured or tainted. For the outer part of the shirt he used a part of the wood that had a vein visible. So it’s really the art of using wood and the right piece of wood and the right piece of the right piece of wood.
WatchPro: You must have to source the wood itself very carefully?
Emilie: He works on stacks of wood like this. These are stacks of tainted wood, but natural. Some of the sheets have been tainted and these obviously come from the same trunk, same tree, same part of the same tree. But each sheet has a different aspect because the wood has these veins and variations. It’s much like paint for a painter – he has his pallet of different paints and he can play around with the nuances. As a marquetor he plays around with the different kinds of wood and the different parts of segments
WatchPro: Are there any particular woods or any colour pallets you prefer?
Emilie: He loves combining the two, much like this watch here because he says it’s like putting an old piece of furniture in a super modern loft; using colourful tainted segments, yet putting them in a very natural environment. He likes the natural side of wood. That’s why he does wood marquetry rather than any other types of marquetry that exist – mother of pearl marquetry, metal marquetry for instance. Marquetry itself indicates the jigsaw nature of the art. He did his own iPhone cover., using natural wood, so it’s a natural pattern. If you look at the watch, it looks almost like it’s metal but it’s wood. It’s because it’s been perfectly levelled out, varnished and treated.
WatchPro: Aside from marquetry, have you started getting appreciation for the watches themselves?
Emilie: He says being here today is proof that he’s definitely getting more appreciation than before. He was saying that marquetry went from something bygone and almost dying to something very trendy now. And that’s the beauty of it, specifically in the world of watchmaking whereby sometimes it just brings back to the front of stage an art or practice that would be lost.
WatchPro: So watchmaking is helping to revive or bring into resurgence crafts that otherwise might not exist anymore?
Emilie: Exactly. That’s definitely the trend, and now it has a new kind of recognition with the watch collectors and they’re looking for this type of hand-made, authentic work, which wasn’t as strong before. And that’s why it’s definitely helping his art.