I’m not much of an artist. I think the last time I picked up a paint brush (aside from flat decorating, but that doesn’t really count) was when I was about 14 and at school. So when Jaquet Droz invited me to spend a morning learning how to enamel a watch dial I think my first reaction was nervous laughter.
To give you a bit of background, Pierre Jaquet-Droz (born 1721 in La Chaux-de-Fonds) not only made clocks and watches, he also made humanoid automata. The brand had its peak between 1784-88 when the company owned three production centres: one in La Chaux-de-Fonds, another in London and one in Geneva. However, unpaid bills, the French Revolution and the Continental Blockade that Napoleon decreed in 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, to embargo trade with Britain essentially killed off the business.
In 2000, it was acquired by the Swatch Group, which is how, 12 years later, I came to be sitting at a table looking at this:
Granted that doesn’t look too daunting but remember that is the size of a watch dial. The Generation Game style challenge was to paint that dial using the a blown-up image as a colour guide and a paint brush with a brush thinner than one of my eyelashes.
Oh and did I mention we had one hour to do it in?
The results were, well, I suppose the polite word is varied. Tim Barber, editor of watch magazine 0024 WatchWorld, impressed everyone with his brush skills, though when we found out he’d spent time in Italy studying fine art, we came to the conclusion that should be classed as cheating. Or maybe that was just me.
Some of the other journalists there played slightly fast and loose with the colour scheme. And this was my effort:
The experience didn’t give me the desire to pick up a brush and unleash my inner Dali but it did give me a heck of a lot of respect for the master craftsmen who enamel Jaquet Droz’s exquisite dials. Even if they do get significantly more time than we did and a microscope to boot. I think that could class as cheating.