Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Things that make us go crazy

Charles Darwin wrote: "The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!"

What a statement! And this is precisely how I felt when a master Guilloche artisan demonstrated the fine art of pattern making during our visit to Cernier.

But before we can go any further with this it is crucial to get familiar with Cernier itself.  Cernier is the former capital of the district of Val-de-Ruz in the canton of Neuchatel, Switzerland.According to one pedantic administrator Cernier had an area of 9.1 square kilometres . Of this area, 4.98 km2 is used for agricultural purposes, while 3.44 km2  is forested.  Of the rest of the land, 0.68 km2 is settled (buildings or roads) and 0.01 km2 (2.5 acres) is unproductive land.


Talk about attention to detail...

Yes, you've got that right; a mere 9 square kilometres of land populated by precisely 2,223 people.  And, as the aforementioned administrator reports,  "...most of the population  speaks French (1,727 or 89.9%) as their first language, German is the second most common (63 or 3.3%) and Italian is the third (49 or 2.6%). There is 1 person who speaks Romansch. " 

(A small linguistic digression:  Romansch is the fourth official language in Switzerland.  I couldn't resist but to look it up: Romansh is divided into five different regional dialects (Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Putèr, and Vallader), each with its own standardised written language. In addition, a pan-regional variety called Rumantsch Grischun was introduced in 1982, which is controversial among Romansh speakers.)

There you go…a district capital the size of a small Australian hobby farm with zero English-speaking inhabitants and a township where everything is measured, recorded, kept as is; the place where time has stood still for well over 800 years.

Cerniers don't rush. They don't throw things away, or hurry to modernise the way they do the craft of fine engraving, known as guilloche.  And why would they - when millions of watch enthusiasts worldwide go crazy at the mere sight of an engraved watch dial, bridge or a case?

Yann von Kaenel, a guillocher, kindly demonstrated his craftsmanship on a 130-year old machine. The trick is to go slowly, he said, and also to become one with the machine.  The rest is a matter of practice. 

I am not going to bore you with the technique itself.   In essence, guilloche is the play of light and shadows caused by intricate patterns in metal created by a movement of a sharp engraving tool - or as Yann explains - the magic which happens when shadow marries the light.

There are no two identical patterns or two identical watch dials and, as in the case of Darwin's peacock, some patterns will simply drive you crazy.




'So what do you do for living', Yann asked, looking in at my business card. 'You are a watchmaker? Are your customers interested in guilloche?'
'
Maybe, perhaps, one day - who knows?  Rebelde is as much Breguet as Parramatta is Neuchatel. But then again, who knows?  In a generation or two, someone from rebelde may visit your atelier to discuss the deal.   Cernier is not going anywhere anytime soon, right?'

We shook hands, and smiled at each other.   He appreciated my curiosity, and I admired his 
craftsmanship.

A brief moment in time, to be cherished forever…

Nick

A picture of Breguet guilloches dial


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