Surprisingly, marquetry is one of the ancient traditional arts which are used today in the creations of the most exquisite watches we will be able to admire at Baselworld 2019. A miniaturist marquetry maker is particularly skillful, disciplined, meticulous, and precise, because he needs to read in the grain of the wood exactly what he will do with each tiny shape cut from the original leaf-thin surface.
Marquetry is a decorative technique usually applied on furniture, smaller wooden objects and pictorial panels, and is a relatively recent arrival in the watchmaking world. To embellish an object or create a work of art on a panel, the marquetry maker chooses several different woods in a wide variety of colors, which he cuts, assembles and applies according to his inspiration and the motifs he desires to create.
When the decoration is geometric, the most usual term is “parquetry”, but in either case it may be abstract or figurative work, and its creator should have access to a vast palette of shades, which he combines according to his taste. The master artisan may work with up to 130 wood types, selecting from up to 60 or 70 natural tints, not counting the woods that he stained in advance. The principle is always to cut the veneers according to a drawing and glue them to a surface.
Marquetry can be seen in Ancient Greece masterpieces, where wooden objects were inlaid with different materials. The practice was almost forgotten at the time of the Roman Empire and then revived in Italy during the Middle Ages. It blossomed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mostly in France in the work of André-Charles Boulle. This illustrious cabinetmaker developed a technique that is still in use today, although it was close to extinction in the twentieth century. It consists of stacking sheets of veneer into blocks, which are then cut with a fretsaw or a marquetry-cutter’s chevalet (sawbuck incorporating a saw with a very fine blade).
The assembled pieces are stuck down with hot glue and pressed. To achieve additional shading and a sense of depth, along with the right thickness and a perfectly even surface, several veneers may be superimposed. Finally, the composition is carefully sanded down.
This technique is identical regardless of the scale and nature of the object: furniture, pictures, clock cases, or, more recently, tiny pieces such as pocket watches and wristwatches.
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