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Rare Craft

Mar 26, 2019 | Featured, Luxury

Looking ahead, the luxury goods market is expected to keep rising for the next few years

TEXT Debbie Hathway PHOTOGRAPHS Supplied

Good news for the luxury goods market is that its current positive trajectory is projected to continue until 2025, according to the Bain & Company Luxury Study released in November 2018.

Luxury watches and jewellery offer great investment value, with hot-ticket items often comprising a high level of craftsmanship. Exclusivity creates demand. It’s luxury 101.

Perhaps one of the most renowned jewellers of all time, Peter Carl Fabergé, was a pioneer of enamelling techniques, an extraordinary craft that earned him the title of Supplier to the Court of His Imperial Majesty in 1885. Applied to the imperial Easter eggs prized by collectors the world over, Fabergé’s enamelling technique has been extended to clocks, trinkets, watches and jewellery – some of which you’ll see if you visit Elegance Jewellers in Johannesburg. You’re bound to fall in love with a pendant or two.

One of the artisans who shine in this field today is Vanessa Lecci, who has worked for Cartier and Patek Philippe. A specialist in Grand-Feu, cloisonné and champlevé techniques, Lecci describes an enameller as “the artisan who tries to manage fire, metal and glass with art and technique”. Coloured, transparent and opaque glass as well as thin gold threads are carefully worked to define the subject, which may even be a portrait.

Craftsmanship is always at the forefront of the new luxury watch reveals at the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) held in January in Geneva, Switzerland. Piaget’s Possession 2019 collection featured a pair of watches in white-gold, with dials pavéd with diamonds, in a showcase of the maison’s highly sophisticated jewellery-making capabilities. Two years ago, the maison had admirers talking about feather marquetry thanks to award-winning artisan Emilie Moutard-Martin’s exquisite handiwork on the dial of the Piaget Altiplano. Artistic crafts contribute to the rarity and therefore the value of a luxury timepiece.

That means it’s often accessible only to the few who can afford it. Marie-Laure Cerede, creative director of watchmaking at Cartier, says that influenced their thinking around the design of the iconic cat in the Panthère collection (pictured above) revealed this year at SIHH.

“We realised the métiers d’art – the pieces incorporating marquetry and enamel – usually were bought only by collectors. That is a pity, because they are remarkable, and we have extraordinary experts in marquetry, enamel and jewellery, too,” she says. “But our idea is to modernise the shape of the panther in order to open these kinds of pieces to a larger public. So the métiers d’art for its eyes is more realistic. This is about craftsmanship. Maybe before we were more decorative. I wanted this to be subtler and very elegant.”

Another ambition, she explains, is to take the rarest and finest jewellery know-how into the watches without turning them into bijou pieces. “Usually, when you use jewellery know-how, it’s for bijou watches. It is a category for Cartier, but it is more interesting for a watch collection like the Tank Chinoise to benefit from rare knowhow of our jewellery design. It’s a good balance between jewellery craftsmanship and timepiece identity.”


Superior craftsmanship is evident in Breguet creations, which span more than 240 years. At Baselworld last year, Breguet revealed new horological marvels in the Classique line, such as the rose-gold Classique Extra-Plate 5157 with its silvered gold engine-turned dial bearing the traditional Clous de Paris hobnail style. Engine-turning is an engraving technique favoured by master watchmakers from the 16th century onwards, initially on watch cases. The technique was soon adopted by Abraham-Louis Breguet for dials.

Another Swiss manufacturer steeped in horological legacy is Montblanc. Its watchmakers at Villeret and Le Locle share knowledge handed down through generations. Villeret’s watchmaking tradition was established in 1858. Under the name Minerva, the company gained recognition for its precise chronometry. Capable of measuring time accurately to 1/100th of a second in 1916, its mechanical stopwatches were fundamental to the evolution of modern-day motor racing.

Omega celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. The name was adopted after the invention of the 19-ligne Calibre movement by Louis-Paul and César Brandt, sons of watchmaker and company founder Louis Brandt. The innovation was so advanced that the brothers named the movement Omega and gave the company the same name in 1903. In January this year, Omega revealed the De Ville Trésor 125th Anniversary Edition in honour of the occasion as well as a new vision for the 19-ligne Calibre.

When it comes to dial creation, few watchmaking companies can top Rolex for its in-house mastery of materials and finishes. Think mother-of-pearl, gold, meteorite and diamonds, some embellished with subtle sun-ray or sand-blasted finishes and others meticulously lacquered. Decorations in relief are crafted through machining or electroforming. The appliqué hour markers are always in 18-carat gold and affixed by hand. Diamonds are carefully selected using state-of-the-art technology, then set by master craftsmen and -women who complete a work greater than the sum of its parts.


“When assessing the value of a piece one needs to consider the level of artistry that the maker brings. Iconic designs that separate designer jewellers from simple retailers or manufacturers are a key consideration when investing in fine jewellery,” says Larry Brown of Browns The Diamond Store. “Our Brown’s Guardian Angel is just one design element present in all our signature Halo rings.”

And those pieces that incorporate gemstones and diamonds naturally hold higher investment value when accompanied by the correct certification. Yair Shimansky at Shimansky Jewellers creates pieces that acknowledge special milestones in people’s lives with what is described as an “obsession with drawing out the ‘moment of fire’ captured within the most precious of stones and showcasing it to maximum effect”. The provenance and heritage of each stone that crowns a Shimansky creation is beyond reproach, thanks to a meticulous selection, tracking and certification process, meaning that customers can be confident of both craftsmanship and authenticity.

Independent laboratory certification is also recommended by Heidi Wahl at First Diamonds when choosing tanzanite. She notes that investment-quality stones are a minimum of 5 carats. “The larger the stone, the more saturated and intense the colour,” she says. Of course, the beauty of commissioning a bespoke item is that you get a unique piece. “At Cape Diamond Exchange we are constantly helping people design and realise their dream jewellery creations. Custom-making jewellery with our clients is always a fun project for both sides,” says Aviva Ezra.

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