(The first step is always to draw out the intended painting first, to plan each processes in details)
This June (2003), I had the rare opportunity to see how Miklos and Sophie work, and the psychological impact on me was intense. If one's budget permits comfortably, I would encourage all to own one at least. Not for investment opportunity, not for horological achievements and not for showing-off, but simply to have the privillege to wear one.
(The colour pencils are used for the initial drawing of the intended painting)
Few enamel fans know that MJLC can produce Grande Taille and XGT Reverso with customised enamel paintings made to customers' order.
(Miklos is equipted with the full range of enamel powders, in his drawer and on the shelves)
As long as the painting is not politically or socially offensive (And as far as I know, MJLC can be quite liberal with this policy
). And if the customers can wait for a reasonable time (price and delivery time will vary according to the desired painting) it is not far fetch to see your love ones on your favourite JLC watch
(Due to likely changes in colour, saturation and intensity, each work must be tested in advance, many of these are tried out and not used, kept by Miklos like treasures
I love Miklos Merczels enamel works. And it is no secret that I consider Miklos, assisted by Sophie Roche as the best enamel team in the industry.
(A brilliant student and a fast learner, Miklos' objective is to see Sophie becoming a better artist than himself)
Most PuristS would be familiar with limited series of The Four Seasons, Claire de Lune & Etoille du Matin models. We have also covered amazing masterpieces like Dusk & Dawn (forum thread discussion)
and (The Other Woman)
(Dusk from the Dusk & Dawn fame)
In response to several emails showing curiosity and intense interest on JLC enamel watches, I think it is about time I should cover this topic in greater details.
Miniature enamel painting is the rarest and most precious of all pictorial arts. It gives life to the legendary swivel case. Thus decorated, the Reverso gives its owner the absolute assurance of possessing the most complete artistically decorated work one could imagine.
In my opinion, Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the few watchmakers still offering this traditional high art of watch decoration.
(Each fired enamel layer must be baked in this primitive looking oven, mind you, the oven is not as cheap as I thought)
The Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre knows exactly where to uncover authentic enamel paintings in order to entrust them to its specialist Miklos Merczel, one of the last enamellers.
This enables Jaeger-LeCoultre to enjoy its position as one of the rare watch Manufactures to offer one of the oldest techniques applied to watch decoration.
(The amazing Montre de poche, a pocket watch worthy of our time. based on a reproduction of a portrait by Alfons Mucha)
It takes several weeks of intense concentration to create a miniature. The art consists, literally, in playing with fire. It needs the nerves and patience of an expert in design reproduction, coloring an enameling technique.
(Enthralled by the beauty of enamel works, The Maharajah of Karputala ordered 50 of them enamelled with his effigy in 1932)
The slightest miscalculation during the process ruins the entire work. First the gold case-back must be sandwiched between coatings of white enamel so that it does not buckle when fired in the oven heated to 850° C.
(Ready products, pieces like this will be inspected in details to ensure it meets the high standards set by Miklos, many are rejected and will not be used in delivery)
Then the artist builds up the picture in layers of enamel colours, minutely painted with a brush pointed to a single hair. Each layer of enamel is vitrified by firing it for a precise time in a furnace. But the colours change when they are fired, so the artist has to calculate the chromatic shift and estimate the final tone. The colours are intensified in each layer until the final picture emerges in the virtuoso display of brilliance and colour that has always made a miniature in enamels the most treasured and intimate- of possessions.
(Miklos, a brilliant Master Enamelist)
Several centuries of tradition.
The first traces of working with enamel go back to before the fifth century BC. Greek sculptors used to decorate their statues with enamelled inlays. The oldest Greek and Celtic specimens are composed of opaque enamels and it was only in the 12th century, in the Gothic era, that the enamellers began to use transparent enamels. The techniques then became increasingly sophisticated and 16th century English goldsmiths and their 18th century French counterparts produced truly splendid pieces.
(Pretty maids all in a row)
Among the techniques known to date, miniature enamel painting probably constitutes the most accomplished form of this art. Born in the 17th century for decorating jewellery and precious objects, the base for enamel miniatures consists of a metal plaque coated with a single colour of enamel to which an artist applies colours using a brush. This technique first appeared in France under the name "émail de Blois", but was later perfected in Geneva, which became one of the specialised enamelling centres, particularly in the field of watchmaking.
(Lempicka in XGT case, one of the projects which may not go into production)
It is hardly surprising that Geneva has exercised such an enduring influence on the development of miniature enamel painting. Meticulous precision, which is the core of the watchmaker's profession, is also crucial to the work of the miniature painter. It is indeed typical of the people of Geneva and plays a determining role in the quality craftsmanship embodied in a watch, its movement, its case and its decoration. At the end of the 18th century, it was this same meticulous precision, combined with a taste for perfection in details that would lead the Geneva enamellers to devise the technique known as flux enamel painting. A sophisticated version of miniaturised enamel painting, this technique has undoubtedly become the most highly prized of all, due to its high artistic value and its ability to stand the test of time...
(Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris? It could have been yours!)
A consummate art of patience.
Flux enamel painting calls for a lengthy sequence of delicate operations. The various stages in the work of the artist call for patience, dexterity, subtlety and require tremendous attention.
(The amazing Little Prince, beautiful!)
In order to stand up to the high temperatures to which it will be subjected, the case-back is first coated with an anti-distortion enamel backing. The artist then undertakes the decoration of the external face of the case by applying four layers of white enamel. It is only that that he begins drawing the motif, using small touches to apply successive thin layers of colour with a brush.
The colours are intensified as they are fired in the furnace until the motif achieves the radiance that has made miniature enamel painting an ideal receptacle for artistic marvels. Flux enamel painting consists of coating the motif with several layers of enamel. Each time a thin film of enamel is applied to the surface of the miniature, the work is fired again in the furnace. The operation is considered complete only when the glazed effect is perfectly brilliant and translucent. The flux, meaning the fine layers of enamel placed on the work at the end of the process, does not only serve as a protecting glazing for the miniaturised painting. Above all, it gives life to the motif by enhancing the depth and radiance of the colours. This operation is extremely delicate: since each firing operation endangers the object, applying the flux and the additional firing operations that implies increases the natural risk associated with the technique of enamel painting.
(Sophie Roche and Miklos Merczel)
By using this typically Genevan procedure of enamel painting, Miklos Merczel, the enameller of Jaeger-LeCoultre, is in fact reviving a longstanding tradition, that of decorating watches with enamelled miniatures. Under Louis XIV, enamellers and miniaturists combined their talents to create increasingly refined watches. Miniature portraits and charming rustic scenes of the kind inspired by Watteau decorated the watch cases and dials. And now, thanks to the work of Miklos Merczel, the miniaturised enamel works of the painter Mucha my be admired on the case of the swivel watch.
(Dawn from the familiar Dusk & Dawn)
The art in figures:
80 to 150 hours of work are required to complete a painting
26 watches are thus decorated each year by Miklos Merczel and Sophie Roche, the enamellers of the Manufacture
Miklos Merczel refused to give in to the communist regime in Hungary, accompanying the last traces of family reluctance to the border post. His watchmaker father and mother were entirely submitted to a shameful dictatorship, while the brothers and sisters were easier to persuade. Miklos Merczel had decided: I wanted to run away. From childhood on, I did everything with this in mind. Starting with watchmaking studies, which revealed an incredible wealth of talent.
As an established and noteworthy citizen, his father taught him the art of assembling movements. Won over by the paternal passion, he was eager to begin formal instruction, earning his diploma on his 17th birthday. A year later he left the country with his passport in hand. His journey would take him to Italy, where a one-year stay in a refugee camp confirmed his determination to legalise his status. Since France willingly granted political asylum at the time, he decided to go there.
He quickly began exercising his trade in various Parisian workshops and then joined the Cartier After-Sales Service. He worked in the department dedicated to grand complication models, at a period where the company used to outsource this kind of mechanism to a Manufacture in the Vallée de Joux: Jaeger-LeCoultre. A wish to join the teams in Le Sentier, combined with an aspiration towards an altruistic way of life led him to move to Switzerland.
Highly sensitive and concerned with perfection, he placed his talent in the service of the complication Reverso watches. In fact, Miklos is one of the few watchmakers who can still work with the almost miscroscopic Calibre 101.
In 1991, destiny was to entwine his profession with his passion for painting. While strolling among the displays at the Basel Show, he discovered antique enamelled pocket-watches. It was love at first sight that was to ignite a smouldering passion.
(A Painting of your home in your watch? it is no longer a dream)
Enamel working is not a substitute for watchmaking: it was to become his life. A self-taught craftsman, he nurtured his skills by reading instructive books on the subject and learned how to fire enamels at high temperatures. In 1995, he was able to add the title of master-enameller to that of master-watchmaker and completed his first series inspired by the Four Seasons of Alfons Mucha in 1996. It proved an immediate success.
The artist succeeded in restoring its full aura to the most intimate of the decorative arts: enamel-painted miniatures. This most complete of the watchmaking arts requires weeks of intense concentration. His father is very proud of his sons creations. Miklos Merczel tempers this with a reminder that It is partly thanks to him that I am here. The man with dual French and Hungarian nationality does not forget those who raised him and made him the person he is.
Miklos dedicates all his time in producing Enamel pieces he can be proud of while ensuring that the confident Sophie Roche will be able to do the work as skilfully in the shortest possible time. Miklos told me at the factory this June (2003) that the ultimate accomplishment would be to see Sophie becoming a better enamellist than he is one day.
My sincere admiration and salute to this amazing artist.