Despite a prolific range of watches featuring this type of decoration, Edouard Bovet managed to assert himself by the sheer quality of the paintings he offered. That was undoubtedly what earned BOVET such success among its early clientele that notably included the Emperor of China. One of the watches acquired by the latter in the early 19th century currently still sits enthroned in the central room of the Forbidden City. The faithful and lifelike depiction of two swans painted on the case-back is in itself a key factor in explaining Edouard Bovet’s success in a country hitherto closed to external trade. The 20th century industrial era unfortunately brought a decline in the recourse to the decorative arts, to the point where the expertise of enamellists and miniature paintings almost vanished forever.
Only a very few exponents proved able to safeguard these crafts that had so greatly contributed to gaining Switzerland international recognition for the infinitely meticulous discipline of its artisans. Bovet belongs to this highly exclusive circle. The painting technique now used by BOVET for its miniature paintings is that of polished lacquer – a practice stemming from those for which BOVET was famed in its past. It was developed by one of the artisans working exclusively for BOVET and serves to highlight the qualities of Chinese lacquer.
Of the various techniques still practiced today, it is that which enables the best possible definition of details and is also more shock-resistant than enamel. Like the other techniques, polished lacquer calls for a substantial number of successive firings according to the complexity of the motif and the number of colours composing it. Nonetheless, these firings do not exceed temperatures of 140°C, thus enabling polished lacquer to be applied to a wide range of supports.
Mother-of-pearl serves as the décor for the majority of BOVET miniature paintings. After a special treatment, its surface provides the ideal backdrop for a range of infinitely small details. Coated in a translucent lacquer, the mother-of-pearl reveals the full wealth of its shimmering iridescence. Masked by opaque colours and according to the nature of the graphic design, it composes a miniature marquetry décor. Each dial is unique and provides scope for boundless inspiration nurtured by such varied themes as floral motifs, animals, landscapes, portraits, or reproductions of paintings.
The artisan’s work consists in creating or transferring the drawing on a generally five times larger scale and of adapting it to the round shape of the dial, while taking account of the position of the hands and of any potential dial apertures. After approval of this initial procedure, the drawing is then transferred on the correct scale and a first outline is sketched out on the dial, followed by a number of different operations: painting the backgrounds, the décors, with details successively applied colour by colour using an extremely fine marten’s hair brush. Between each operation, the artisan adds a lacquer that fixes in place every detail of each colour. Each of these applications of lacquer must be fired in a kiln and then polished.
Once the final layer of lacquer has been applied and fired, the last operation consists in reducing the dial to its final thickness by consistent gentler abrasive movements, before the final polishing that will reveal the full depth of the work. In their eager quest for perfection, the BOVET artisans have developed new techniques associable with polished lacquer. Certain dials thus feature details crafted in gold leaf, while in other cases they may be adorned with gold or silver paillons (spangles) that are combined with the lacquer to create a metallic effect.
The extremely large proportion of BOVET watches personalised by a miniature painting demonstrates just how strongly customers and collectors associate BOVET with this art. The excellence displayed by BOVET in the field of watchmaking decorative arts has not only contributed to safeguarding skills otherwise threatened with extinction, but has also given them fresh impetus while enabling them to draw ever closer to perfection.