Vintage News | The House That Cartier Skill Built

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Artisans who help create fine watches for Cartier now work in its Maison des Métiers d’Art in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. (Credit: Pascal Mora for The New York Times)



Standing in front of a wide window with views over a green valley dotted with buildings and houses, one of Cartier’s marquetry artists gently tapped his foot on the wooden power pedal of a custom-made crossbow saw.

He was using the fine, needle-like saw to cut the delicate dried petals of some Ecuadorian roses that had been dyed orange, green and turquoise — and now were being shaped to resemble the feathers of a parrot, for the dial of a Ballon Bleu du Cartier watch.

The bespectacled artist, whom Cartier would not permit to be identified because of its personnel policies, had been trained as a cabinetmaker and had used his marquetry skills to devise the trimming method. First, he tried using a very small scalpel, but it dented the petals’ edges. When other ideas failed, he designed the table saw, about five feet long, customizing it to his own body shape and sensitivities.

It was, he said later in an email, “a thrill” to see the finished crossbow saw for the first time. “I would never have thought I would be transforming rose petals into parrot feathers. It’s magical.”

It has been a year since Cartier opened its Maison des Métiers d’Art, an atelier that has brought together about 30 highly skilled artisans and craftspeople to, well, create magic.

“Having everyone under the same roof enables them to share know-how and to develop even more,” Edouard Mignon, the product and services director at Cartier Horlogerie, wrote in an email. “What’s more, this ambiance of creativity is not supported by meetings or other boring tools but is simply generated by the building itself. Since the people are close together, they can talk and share, without having someone tell them what to do.”

Before the Bernese-style farmhouse, which dates to 1872, was opened in its new iteration last November, the artisans had worked in different spaces in the company’s watch manufacturing complex nearby. Their skills are used in limited-edition watches, restricted to fewer than 20 pieces of any design.

Cartier, which is owned by the luxury giant Richemont, had three main goals for the farmhouse project, including the preservation of techniques that are rarely taught anymore, and the sharing of expertise among craftspeople, as well as the watch engineers and creative team. The last and maybe the most significant goal was to innovate, creating new skills such as the floral marquetry.

“It is really a challenge for them, but also they are really proud and it raises the bar really amazingly, so it is good for everyone,” Mr. Mignon said during a telephone interview. “Learning the trade of your neighbor, you can also adjust your own trade, especially when you mix the techniques.”

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