Artful Dials: Decorative Watch Faces Inspired by Nature

For a timepiece to be considered of great value in today’s market, it must be beautifully crafted from the inside out. Watch brands are placing equal importance on both the mechanics and aesthetics of their timepieces. In fact, one of the most eye-catching parts of any timepiece is its face - the dial. Among the pieces on display at Watches and Wonders this year in Geneva, Switzerland, a staple in almost every selection of new novelties was a timepiece with a painted dial. Here is a selection of my favourites…

Imagination and innovation are the two dominant themes represented by these miniature canvases, which are housed beneath sapphire glass in the form of timepieces. True works of art in their own rights, a multitude of materials were used to create these expansive scenes. From painted enamel details to the use of hard stones as figures and objects, designers pushed the boundaries of what we can expect from storytelling on such a small surface area. The watches featured below are the epitome of these works of art, creating playful mediums on which to tell the time.

The two variations of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Star watch with a hand-painted moon, stars and night sky

Hermès Arceau Les Folies Du Ciel

Henri D’Origny’s Arceau watch is a model through which the house of Hermès shows its creativity time and time again. This year, the Arceau design entitled Les Folies du Ciel features a drawing that can only be described as an aircraft as imagined with child-like wonder. The hand-painted textured mother-of-pearl dial is a combination of engraving and animation that’s inspired by Loïc Dubigeon’s ‘Les Folies du Ciel’ silk scarf motif, designed in 1984. It is a nod to those who dared to dream that mankind could fly.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Star

A joyful ode to the night sky, the Rendez-Vous Star by Jaeger-LeCoultre is crafted with multiple layers of sapphire crystal set with diamonds. The dial features a hand-painted moon and clouds that work in mechanical harmony to conceal and then reveal a shooting star. In fact, the shooting star appears on the dial at random moments - usually four to six times per hour. “Its unpredictability makes it even more special,” according to the brand. The Rendez-Vous Star is available in two variations - white gold or rose gold – and combines an elegant diamond pavé bezel with a more daytime appropriate alligator leather strap.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31

The floral dial design on the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31 brings a sense of femininity and fun to this staple model. Available in three colours, silver, Azzurro blue and olive green, each petal is finished in either a sunray, matte or grained fashion to allow the flowers to spring to life depending upon the light they are viewed under. The dials are sprinkled with diamonds that vary in size and serve to anchor the centre of each floral motif, creating a sense of symmetry and order. Rolex describes these diamonds as ‘dewdrops’ as if a patch of blooms is just recovering from a rainstorm. Each colourway is paired with a different bracelet strap, including the Jubilee, President and Oyster for all you Rolex aficionados. 

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grisaille

The sea reigns supreme over Vacheron Constantin’s latest novelties, which are united by the theme ‘Les Royaumes Aquatiques’ in 2022. In a series of single-piece editions, three distinct timepieces have aquatic detailed dials - each featuring an emblem associated with the sea (a pirate ship, seahorse and turtle). The master artisans of the brand created these lifelike scenes using several techniques. The first is grisaille enamel, which consists of applying a layer of dark enamel overlaid with touches of rare Limoges white enamel. Each layer is baked in a kiln, in addition to other colours created from powdered metallic oxides, in a process that takes some 120 hours! Next comes the engraving. To create depth to these three dials, each has small, engraved details to add texture. Finally, gem-setting is used to further accentuate the deep blue of the oceanic world these dials bring to life.

Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heure Florales

Within the garden of flowers and trees that Van Cleef & Arpels created at Watches and Wonders, two special floral pieces caught my attention. Both have joined the Poetic Complications collection that reinvents the idea of telling time through a series of precious metals that open and close to reflect the current hour of the day. These extraordinary dials pay tribute to the floral clock concept (Horologium Florae), developed by Carl Von Linné, depicted in his 1751 book Philosophia Botanica. The Lady Arpels Heures Florales and Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier watches are crafted with mother of pearl, sapphires, diamonds and miniature paintings – a fitting tribute to the Swedish botanist’s garden.

Not only are these timepieces lovely to look at, but they have a way of interacting with the wearer that adds a touch of excitement. There’s so much skill and finesse here that it’s hard not to be excited by what 2023 will bring!

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