Jaquet Droz is all about the art of the dial—not the machine-made kind, but the slow process of hand-crafted limited-edition decorative dials using traditional techniques. Paillonée and plique-à-jour enameling, miniature painting and various kinds of marquetry are in-house specialties, created in extremely limited editions; in fact all Jaquet Droz watches are limited to series of 8, 28 or 88 pieces. The latest, the Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara Hummingbird, is limited to eight.
“Smalta Clara” is the latin phrase for plique-à-jour, an enameling technique that dates back 1,500 years. Unlike cloisonné or champlevé enamel, in which the enamel is applied to a hollowed out or sectioned-off surface, plique-à-jour is made to be seen from both the front and back of the watch like a miniature stained glass window. There is no caseback, except behind the small off-center time dial, which houses the movement. The enamel is applied over a mold in sections between gold partitions that form the composition, and then fired in an oven to solidify it. The result is a design made up of thick, transparent panes of enamel that reflect light and shadows in a unique, vitreous glow. To get the color and density just right, the enamel has to be fired at very precise temperatures, with the constant risk that only a few degrees hotter could break the enamel, requiring the artist to start all over again. It’s not an easy task, and Jaquet Droz says only a handful of artisans are trained to do it, but the results are worth it—and priced accordingly at $56,400 each.
The hummingbird is cast in subtle gradients of green, in seven different shades, along with some light blue panels. Flip it around and you can see the bird in reverse, along with part of the movement, including the microrotor, which is engraved with another likeness of the hummingbird and its feathers. This is the fourth plique-à-jour piece from Jaquet Droz. There have been two tiger motif compositions and one previous hummingbird in the series.
The 18-karat red gold case is 35 mm, with 100 diamonds totaling .89 carat set into the bezel and lugs. The off-centered hour and minute dial is mother-of-pearl. The green strap is hand-stitched satin. It contains the Jaquet Droz automatic caliber 6150, with a 38 hour power reserve.