By Rebecca Doulton
In the watch world, dials are the equivalent of an artist's canvas, inviting talented artisans to apply their skills on a diminutive surface. The art of plumasserie, or feather art, which was popular in the 19th century, has been revived by two watch brands that have both discovered the beautiful and unique effects and compositions that feathers can produce on a dial.
Contemporary feather artists use natural feathers to create their artistic compositions, and although you might think it's just a matter of sticking down a nice peacock feather on the dial, it is in fact a very delicate and painstaking art. First, the feathers are selected and chosen for their stability, density, finesse and colour, before being steam cleaned. Each individual remige, or flight feather, is then arranged in a composition using a technique similar to that of wood marquetry and then glued flat.
And just in case men are wincing at the thought of a watch with a feather dial, history sets the record straight. Feathers have been used for millennia in tribal rituals and often denote the chief member of a clan. In Native American tribes, a feather symbolises trust, honour, strength, wisdom and power, and is considered a privilege to receive. Feathers and plumage have also festooned military uniforms throughout history.
This year, Harry Winston watches has decided that men ought to enjoy a feather dial and has presented the Midnight Feathers Automatic 42mm collection. Simulating a textured fabric, the alternating dark and light brown feathers impart a dynamic rhythm to the dial, conferring a masculine, almost safari, feel to this Harry Winston watch.
Corum watches produced a Feather model in the 1970s and revisited the motif in its Heritage Artisans Feather red gold watch last year featuring a peacock feather framed and highlighted with 120 diamonds on the dial.
Just a few years' ago, Harry Winston watches launched a series of 36mm feather dials in its Premier Ladies collection. The beautiful faces display a shimmering rich marquetry of silvered pheasant, guinea fowl, peacock and turquoise guinea feathers surrounded by diamonds on the bezel, lugs and crown. Time certainly flies when gazing at these winged dials.