It is not entirely surprising if you have not heard of DeLaneau. This watch company has been quietly going about its business, head down, for 84 years, making timepieces like no others.
Founded in 1949 by Rolf and Yolanda Tschudin in Switzerland, the company first began making watches as private commissions and for the big name jewellery houses in Place Vendôme. So spectacular were its gem-set watches that the house soon became known as the 'jeweller of watches'.
The firm continues to make some of the most original jewellery watches I have ever seen, employing a variety of techniques. Enamelling was added to its offerings in 2001 and ever since, DeLaneau has distinguished itself with its highly creative and individual watches, which combine the artistry of enamelling with gem-setting and engraving.
Based in Geneva, the historic centre of enamelling, overlooking the lake, today the enamel workshop is at the heart of the firm. Specialising in watches for women, each of these enamel dials is a masterpiece, painted through binoculars onto gold discs, often no bigger than a coin.
DeLaneau's enamel artists use the 'sous fondant' technique of Grand Feu enamelling, which adds an extra richness and depth of colour. But this task requires great skill as the artist does not know what the finished painting will look like until the final firing, when the true colours come through. Along the way, the multiple high-heat firings in the furnace can destroy the entire process, a temper-fraying routine that tests the skill and patience of the artist.
This year's 'Flower Fields' collection of timepieces is inspired by the work of Impressionist artists. The watch dials capture the hazy summer scene of meadows in bloom. Or you can request a specific painting in enamel for your watch. When I last visited the hushed Genevan workshops, one artist was working on an image of an icon, the work so refined that it is only truly appreciated through a magnifying glass.
The house still produces elaborate gem-set watches, and often the enamel dials are enhanced by the sparkle of diamonds. And as beautiful as the outside of the watches may be, the hard mechanics have not been overlooked. Each watch is furnished with respectable mechanical movements to match the quality of its dial and case, and some models incorporate a highly sophisticated tourbillon regulator.
This time-consuming artisanal approach chimes with us at a time when individuality and craftsmanship are increasingly valued over big brand names. "Ladies enjoy our watches in the way they might enjoy a beautiful ring," explains Brigitte Morina, Creative Director of DeLaneau. "Our clients are women who appreciate craftsmanship and the work of jewellery making. It is all about the bespoke nature of the watch, the joy of knowing who made it and the story behind it."