Master glassmakers perform a silent ballet bringing into life dials inspired by 19th century paperweights
Within its Arceau Millefiori models, Hermès encapsulates an unusual encounter between watchmaking and glassmaking. Its exceptional wristwatches and pocket watches, beating to the tune of mechanical calibres produced in the Swiss workshops of La Montre Hermès, are lit up by dials and covers inspired by 19th century paperweights, crafted by the Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis. It is the oldest glass-maker in France and since 1993 belongs to the Hermès group. For Hermès it was a way to set all this amazing know-how into the future. And now synergies are creating amazing things like this glass dial used in the Arceau Millefiori watch.
Everything at Saint-Louis begins with the glass-melting furnace. The gatherer or ball-maker dips a punty (blowpipe) into the mouth of these pots, each containing a colour of crystal, and twirls the molten matter to form a homogenous bubble-free mass known as a gob. Thus begins the patient work of the master glassmakers, performing a silent ballet.
The punty is passed from hand to workshop, until a monochrome crystal sprue is formed which will serve to create the canes that will in turn give rise to the ‘millefiori’ motif (Italian for ‘a thousand flowers’).
Crafted by applying successive layers of crystal to enamel to reveal the colour, these canes resemble barley sugar candy canes. They are in some cases assembled to form ever-richer patterns. Whatever their colour or design, the process itself remains identical. The canes thus created are cut into small ten-millimetre portions that are then vertically placed in a castiron bowl, where they form a bed of flowers.
While one master glassmaker prepares a crystal ‘calotte’ or ‘skullcap’, the part that fixes it to the rod, a colleague brings him the bowl containing the millefiori. With the tip of his punty, the first artisan adds the molten clear crystal, fusing the two blocks so as to encapsulate or “package” the motif in glass. The punty then returns to the port opening in the furnace, and the material is worked with a shaping block or ladle-like wooden tool, meticulously fashioned with a wooden pallet – sometimes even with paper – to achieve the required shape. To set the finishing touch to the paperweight, the glassmaker creates a collar that will enable him to cut off the desired portion of crystal.
It is only during the final cutting stage that the crystal reveals the full wealth of its pattern and the unique beauty of the lowerbed with its vividly shimmering colours that will become the dial or cover of one of the Arceau models.
The amazing visual effect of this technique is that you can see a marked deepness into the pattern like if the different elements were floating in the air. It is almost like a glass lace.
Holding mechanical movements, the Arceau models are in 34mm and 41mm with circular-grained and snailed mainplate. Both have satin-brushed bridges and oscillating weight besides being adorned with the special Hermès decoration (H symbols).