Nothing quite captures the essence of luxury than having something made to measure, be it an haute couture gown, a pair of handmade shoes or a piece of jewellery. However, taking customisation to new heights is DeLaneau, the Swiss brand whose sole mission is to recreate a bespoke experience in the realm of watches for women.
It’s most definitely a woman’s world at DeLaneau, which offers a welcome parenthesis to men’s ideas about what women want in a watch - which is usually just a downsized men’s model with a smattering of diamonds. Founded by a woman in 1949 and run by women today, DeLaneau was one of the first Swiss watch companies to devote itself exclusively to women’s watches and the first brand to produce a high jewellery tourbillon complication for women in 2004. However, the term high jewellery falls short of describing DeLaneau watches, which are really miniature works of portable art.
Based in Geneva, DeLaneau is famous for its exquisite enamel dials and, since 2001, has an in-house team of three female enamellers working in an atelier on the second floor of the boutique. Enamelling is something of a hallowed tradition in Geneva. Following the introduction of watchmaking in the early 17th century by Protestant refugees from France, the city became a cradle for the art of enamelling used to decorate the cases of pocket watches, snuff boxes and jewellery. The Geneva technique, practiced at DeLaneau, was invented in 1760 and consists of covering the miniature painting with transparent enamel, which highlights the vibrancy and brilliance of the colours and keeps their magic alive for centuries. The tradition lives on in the hands of these experienced artists who practice all variants of enamelling techniques such as Grand Feu, cloisonée, plique-à-jour, and paillonné.
Dedicated in heart and soul to creating bespoke watches for women, DeLaneau unveils a selection of one-off pieces every year to showcase the astonishing creativity and artistic skills that set this brand apart from the crowd. Of all the watch trends on display at Baselworld 2016, DeLaneau unveiled six unique pieces decorated with the brand’s signature Grand Feu enamelling to give people a taste of what the brand is capable of achieving.
Nature has always been a recurring motif at DeLaneau and the Elements timepiece, with its detailed and lush depiction of tropical flora and fauna, is an eloquent testimonial of the stunning attention to detail. Béatrice, the enameller, explains the concentration and devotion required to achieve this work of art: “I had to set my loupe to its maximum magnification. I couldn’t work for more than an hour at a time because I often couldn’t breathe - I had to hold my breath and let my hand guide my movements with its inner feelings, totally independent of my body and mind.”
The Guardian Angel watch sums up the philosophy of the brand very nicely by combining the magic of a tourbillon complication with a Grand Feu enamelled dial, and a stunning setting of diamonds on the case, dial, lugs and even on the bridges of the tourbillon.
In a more abstract vein, but still inspired by nature, the Arabesque timepiece has been painted using pointillism - like the work of the Impressionist painter Georges Seurat - but with enamel. Inspired by the boxwood shrubs groomed into swirling Arabesques and labyrinths found in formal French gardens, the palette of colours and pointillism technique give the dial a velvety, granular texture, much like running your hand over the top of a shrub. As with all DeLaneau watches, it houses a first-class, Swiss mechanical automatic movement and, in this case, is presented in a red gold 40mm Dôme case set with contrasting baguette-cut and brilliant-cut diamonds.
Eye-catching to say the least, the Tiger Eye timepiece is so realistic you almost expect the eye to blink. The enamelling method used to recreate the feline’s eye and soft fur with such realism and depth is known as the Geneva technique, and a close-up of the iris and pupil attest to the remarkable skills of the enameller. The Celeste watch, presented in a white gold Atame case uses paillonné enamel to create a shimmering winter landscape. Paillonné, which translates as “spangling”, involves decorating a dial with tiny gold foil spangles and firing them with a layer of enamel to produce a surface with a scintillating personality.
Women are invited to participate in every stage of the creation of their watch, from the design of the dial, the choice of case and desired metal, to the colour, cut and size of the gemstones decorating the case and the type of mechanical movement they fancy. The first stage in the journey of co-creation is to ascertain a client’s taste and translate her ideas into preliminary sketches. The sky is really the limit when it comes to the decoration of the dial, which can range from a reproduction of your favourite painting to an abstract motif. Once the sketch has been approved, the enameller will start her artistic odyssey.
Bent over a binocular microscope, she uses a delicate paintbrush made of just a few mink hairs to apply the enamel to the gold disc. In addition to the consummate skills required to replicate a work of art on such a diminutive surface, enamellers are up against another challenge when it comes to firing the enamel in a kiln. Enamelling is a fickle art. The firing process, during which the enamel on the dial is exposed to kiln temperatures of 800 degrees, sometimes up to 20 times, can produce all sorts of unexpected mishaps, from warping to the appearance of bubbles and cracks in the enamel. Alchemy in its purest form, it is impossible to predict the final outcome and just a few seconds too long in the kiln can spell disaster. If anything goes wrong during any of the multiple firings, the enameller has to start all over again.
From start to finish, a DeLaneau watch can take anywhere from four to six months to complete. But since we are looking at a unique, inimitable and highly personal work of art that will bring you years of pleasure, it’s well worth the wait.