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"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." - Confucius

The name of Jaeger-LeCoultre has strong ties with craftsmanship. In 2014 the Manufacture presented the 180 Skills Under the Same Roof campaign to underline and celebrate the legacy of their expertise exceeding 180 years. Recently the “Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux” presented its new Artistic Crafts department in Le Sentier together with the new Métiers Rares® (Rare Crafts) Atelier, dedicated to all the highly skilled artisans. Discovering the outstanding work of people with great talent is something we love – just what we did with expert gem-setters in Paris or an engraving specialist at Viennatime.

Last week I attended an event at the Augarten Porzellanmanufaktur (Augarten porcelain factory), dedicated to various traditional crafts from enamelling to porcelain painting. The porcelain manufacture is located in a lush public park of the Viennese Leopoldstadt that dates back to the 17th century.

 
The evening introduced how traditional crafts, techniques and precious materials meet contemporary mindset to fascinate the refined senses of savvy clientele. Four brands showcased not only their creations but also some of the creators themselves in the amazing building of the Viennese Porcelain Manufactory founded in 1718. In one of the oldest European factories of its kind, guests had the opportunity to see the Museum including the huge original kiln. While sipping Cuvée Royale Brut Rosé from the almost 200-year-old cellar of Joseph Perrier, we admired the porcelain painter’s painstaking decoration work at his workbench.

Augarten shared the evening with other manufactures, too. Distinguished creations of the German silversmith Robbe & Berking, established in 1874, were presented by a gentlemen, who gave a glimpse into the classic decorating processes of contemporary and traditional silver goods.

Another pride of Austria, “Zur Schwäbischen Jungfrau”, specialised in exquisite table, bed and bath linen since 1720 received the sincere admiration of enthusiasts. A lady presented how their different motifs take shape on a vintage sewing machine.

 
The icing on the Viennese cake was Jaeger-LeCoultre, who have a boutique in Vienna operated by Uhrmachermeister Hübner. They brought the art of enamelling and miniature painting closer to the audience.

Sophie, a talented enamel artist from the Manufacture was there to explain the details of her work (see more about her here). She is in the team of the master enameller Miklos Merczel who played a great role in reviving this art at Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Enamelling is an old and traditional art form, widely used on decorative objects in many regions – some objects recovered date back to the ancient Greek, Persian or Chinese cultures. At the time of Louis XIV it was fashionable to decorate pocket watches and clocks with enamel. The technique was continuously evolving; in the late 18th century enamellers in Geneva developed a method to coat the painting with transparent glaze. It helped to protect the tiny artwork and conserve the colour even better.
 
The very fine powder of enamel (which is silica together with a colourant, e.g.: a metal oxide mixed with oil) is applied. Firing is done at 800 – 1200°C – different colours require different temperatures. The piece is fired between 17 and 22 times during the vitrification process. This technique requires not only artistic skills but also great chemical knowledge and experience of the different powders and materials, and how they react to the heat. The artisan has to be very patient and careful; at any stage during the process the material may crack or air bubbles, tiny particles or even a speck of dust may destroy the surface.

Would you have the patience to depict a complex artwork on enamel? When the muster is a well-known painting, like the “Hygieia” from Klimt or Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, there is no room for errors. Sophie’s steady hands get amazingly close to them. Sometimes, if a collector orders an imaginary motif, there is a little more freedom and room for creativity.

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Miniature painting on enamel (original: Gustav Klimt - Hygieia)

She explained, that in most of the cases she starts painting with a very fine brush. However, many patterns are so delicate that she has to use a tiny metal needle to disperse the paint. When a certain part of the motif is finished she dries it out in the kiln at low temperature – this helps her to avoid an unwanted flow of paint. In most cases the fault can be scratched back if any correction needs to be done. As soon as the piece is subjected to high temperature, it is permanently fired onto the surface.

The enamelling is acknowledged as “the triumph of colour over time”. It is quite hard to choose the right powder to reveal the imagined colour on the final piece. For instance, it’s really challenging to reproduce a nice shade of pink – it often becomes brownish or yellowish, Sophie added.

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Enamel powders

I was mesmerized by her work and was stuck at her workbench for a long time. Many of the questions we discussed raised even more… I can’t wait to see the latest tiny art pieces from her and her colleagues.

 

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