When you write about new watches everyday, it becomes harder and harder to be surprised. Most brands, for better or worse, design watches in an iterative way – new releases might be very, very nice, but truly fresh ideas are few and far between. But that just makes it even more gratifying when something genuinely different comes across the transom, as it did with this absolutely bonkers Louis Erard with a wood dial.
Louis Erard’s New Limited Edition Takes Wood Dials to a New Extreme
To start with, let’s concede that wood dials themselves are nothing new. Luxury brands have been making dials out of different types of wood for decades, with the trend reaching a peak in the 1970s and 80s. But this Louis Erard Excellence Marqueterie is unlike any other wood dial I’ve ever seen. It continues the Louis Erard trend of combining rare and traditional handcrafts with their unique, contemporary sensibility. Up to now, my favorite example of this idea was their work in the art of guilloche dial making, which took a craft that is undeniably difficult and special, but sometimes aesthetically a bit old fashioned, and made it feel extremely modern.
That first limited edition guilloche dial serves as design inspiration for this watch, made in the marquetry decorative tradition, which consists of inlaying many small pieces of precisely cut wood. Marquetry is most often used in furniture making – think table tops, the backs of chairs, and so forth. Here, miniature marquetry specialist Bastien Chevalier has produced a dial with an elaborate geometric pattern using precisely cut wood in four different colors (and two entirely different types of wood). The section of the dial that appears to be in the background is gray-stained willow burl, and the blue cubes are made from tulip tree and stained in three different shades to achieve the proper depth effect. In the Louis Erard press release for this watch, the word “madness” is used multiple times to describe intensity and difficulty of the process, and that seems about right to me.
According to Louis Erard, each dial incorporates more than 70 individual slivers of wood, every one cut by hand with a small scalpel. If Chevalier is more than a tenth of a millimeter off in his cut, gaps can be seen once all the pieces are assembled. Creating this dial is essentially like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, but in addition to putting the pieces together, you also need to cut them, paint them, and finish them. And you have to do it nearly 100 times, in exactly the same way. Louis Erard hasn’t provided information on the length of time it takes to create each dial, but they do note that it’s well outside the bounds of normal budgetary limits for a watch at this price point.
Because the dial is made with uncommon materials, it follows that the assembly process is unlike that for a traditional watch, and Chevalier has effectively repurposed artisanal methods used in his craft to a watchmaking context. He uses a microscope to fix and mount each individual piece before glue is applied to the reverse side and the dial is attached to a metal base. He then sands the front of the dial to the correct thickness. An error at any point would cause some or all of the dial to be discarded. The end result is a dial with a dynamic geometric pattern that is truly unlike anything else made with a degree of difficulty that is tough to fathom.
There are 99 of these Excellence Marqueteries in total, a number which kind of boggles the mind given the handmade nature of each individual dial by a single artisan. The case is the same 42mm polished stainless steel design that Louis Erard has employed in other limited editions, and the movement is the similarly well understood Sellita SW261 automatic caliber. There are no markers on the dial, of course. This is the textbook definition of an “art piece,” and any attempt to mark the time in a traditional way would be an offense to Chevalier’s craft, but we do get Louis Erard’s very nice and traditional fir tree hands.
The retail price for the Excellence Marqueterie is CHF 3,900. More information at Louis Erard here.