Here’s a TLDR tip for those of you who don’t need an introduction to Cartier’s decorative dial watches — skip ahead to the last five paragraphs for details on the new watch. There’s a bit of a refresher course directly ahead. All good? Let’s go.

I’m a pretty big fan of Cartier’s Métiers d’Art timepieces, especially when they venture into something a little different. When I first started writing about watches in 2010, the decorative dial arts were comprehensively represented in the Cartier range — mostly the ones we’re familiar with, such as enamelling, mosaic, marquetry, all that kind of stuff.

Not long after that, Cartier began going into the lesser-known branches of these established techniques. Grisaille enamel, for example, which layers blanc de Limoges (an opaque, viscous white enamel blend) on a black base to create startlingly three-dimensional chiaroscuro images. Plique-à-jour enamel, which holds panes of translucent enamel in delicate frames for a stained-glass effect.

Unusual materials, such as straw and even flower petals, were incorporated with dials using refined marquetry techniques and were characteristic of Cartier’s hunger to master a growing range of expertises (a trend also seen in their technical watchmaking department).

In 2013, Cartier went a step further and started resurrecting artisanal techniques which had long fallen out of mainstream use and resided in the hands of only a few traditional craftsmen — if any at all. The Etruscan craft of creating images from tiny gold spheres and the art of gold wire filigree were introduced into the Cartier Metiers’ d’Art collection in consecutive years.

For the 2017 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), Cartier are increasing their store of rare artisanal crafts by one, using the technique of heat-painting.

It’s a somewhat metaphorical term, because there isn’t actually any paint involved. We’re all familiar with blued steel — steel components that are heated until their outermost layer oxidises, creating that deep blue hue that has come to indicate performance and quality in our eyes. Oxidation occurs in stages, and different levels of heat result in different colours.

The dial of the Ronde Louis Cartier XL Flamed Gold Watch uses this principle to form a varicoloured representation of the brand’s signature panther. The gold dial is first evenly blued over its entire surface. The bits of the design that are to be another colour are painstakingly scraped off by hand — you’ll recall that the bluing treatment is only superficial and can be removed by mechanical means. The dial is then fired at a lower temperature, so that the blued surface remains unaffected but the newly exposed metal is oxidised to the temperature-controlled colour. The dial is thus coloured in with multiple stages of firing, each at a lower temperature than the last and with new areas exposed before each firing.

It sounds straightforward in principle, but I have no doubt it is anything but straightforward in practice. I’m thinking here of my experience this recent Christmas, of attempting (insanely) to make gifts for my family based on misleading Pinterest craft projects that looked relatively simple to assemble but were basically one giant 10-hour-long pain in the ass with hot glue burns and joint pain. So much for trying to be sweet and caring and substituting effort for money — I legitimately hate Pinterest now.

With heat-painting, if you miss one colour out, too bad, you can’t just go back and fill it in; you’ll mess up all the subsequent colours that come in at the lower temperatures, so you’ve basically screwed up. Like any other successfully executed artisanal craft, heat-painting requires a metric ton of pre-planning and patience, more than we common mortals possess and these artisans have nothing but my utmost respect. I’m looking forward to checking it out in a couple weeks at the SIHH. Stay tuned, we’ll let you know how it went.

Ronde Louis Cartier XL Flamed Gold Watch
Calibre 430 MC Manufacture mechanical movement with manual winding
Case: 18-carat white gold, bezel set with baguette-cut diamonds
Dimensions: 42 mm
Crown: beaded crown set with a diamond
Dial: flamed gold
Hands: apple-shaped hands in rhodium-finish steel
Strap: black alligator skin
Buckle: folding buckle in 18-carat white gold set with baguette-cut diamonds
Crystal and case back: sapphire
Case thickness: 7.24 mm
Water-resistance: 3 bar (~30 metres)
Numbered limited series of 30 pieces

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