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

The Cartier artisans in La Chaux-de-Fonds every year reveal new ‘Métiers d’Art’ watches, using very special techniques and showcasing different reinterpretations of the panther – the emblematic animal of the Maison. 

Every object in haute couture, haute joaillerie and haute horlogerie is created with extreme attention to detail and the designs are often astoundingly creative. These embody a completely different level of art, which requires the best of the best in craftsmanship, know-how, attention to detail and imagination. 

Without doubt the artisans of Cartier are heading for the peak with their Métiers d’Art pieces, released every year. They often incorporate some almost-forgotten crafts or techniques and virtuously combine them on 21st century watches.

Back in 2012 Cartier presented a timepiece with a koala motif on the dial in straw marquetry. Now on the new 42mm, white gold Ronde Louis Cartier timepiece the artisans coupled the straw technique with gold – depicting a panther head. The head itself is comprised of more than sixty-five elements in white, yellow and pink gold, which are shaped and satin-finished one by one. 

For the patterns of the panther the gold wires are combined with seventy-five blades of straw in different sizes and shades, produced in 11 colours. The spots and the eyes of the panther are enamels in different shades. 

The latest Métiers d’Art Ronde Louis Cartier creation is available in a limited edition of 30 individually numbered timepieces. 

Ronde Louis Cartier straw and gold marquetry watch, dial in progress

An outlook on straw marquetry

Straw marquetry is an applied arts technique similar to wood marquetry only here the thin wood layers are replaced by natural straw stems. 

According to most sources, the technique itself was first used in Eastern cultures, arriving to Europe via specimens in the 17th century. In the 17th century, the technique was used by cabinet-makers creating inlay and marquetry, church people, sailors and prisoners thus creating a truly rich branch of handicrafts, which was especially popular in France. The craft of straw marquetry regained popularity in the Art Deco when renowned designers started to apply it as a decorative element in various furniture and object surfaces. 

They primarily wheat, rye, and oat stem, which were first split in half one by one, flattened, and then soaked and softened in successive cold, warm, and hot water. After soaking, the fibres were ironed into a flat strip shape, giving them a wide spectrum of colours, ranging from pale golden yellow to dark brown. If they wanted a colour other than shades of brown, they dyed the already flattened and dried stems by hand. The finished fibres were placed by hand, layer by layer, on paper or wood until the desired thickness was reached. The whole process was done by hand.

The stems themselves are extremely fragile, so they must be handled with great care. The use of any chemical should be avoided and the recommended relative humidity during processing is ideally between 30 and 60%. From the preparation of the fibres, through the dyeing process to the individual application of the stems to the surface, the technique requires a great deal of patience and expertise.

Despite their sensitivity, it is rewarding to work with different cereal stems, because after processing a truly special effect can be achieved and the light reflects uniquely and subtly on the surface of the objects.

The process not only meticulous but also requires exceptional patience and time – a dial requires about 97 hours to finish. 

Photo credits: Cartier
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