In 2018, Jaeger-LeCoultre recreated a set of 3 watches drawing inspiration from “The Seasons” of Alfons Mucha’s emblematic 1896 series of decorative panels. Each was a limited edition of 8 pieces. We manage to catch two of the three recently, and present you with this episode of Rare Watches – the Reverso Tribute Enamel Alfons Mucha 2018.
Though the inspiration was taken from “The Seasons” by Alfons Mucha, only three of four seasons were depicted in this 2018 series. Only Summer, Spring and Autumn are represented However, JLC has previously made a full set of all the four seasons in mid 1990s, each a limited edition of 25 pieces.
These were the enamel painting works of Miclos Merczel, then the Head Enamel Artist in JLC. The series was re-interpreted in 2018, resulting in three watches in the 2018 collection. Each is a limited edition of only 8. We managed to photograph two of the three watches.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Alfons Mucha
We note with interest that at its launch, JLC had only introduced three watches in this new cycle of the Seasons. For some reason, Winter is not depicted in this 2018 release. Only Summer (in white gold case) and Spring and Autumn (both in yellow gold cases) are part of the release.
Alfons Mucha is an internationally celebrated Czech artist who is inextricably associated with the image of the 1900 Paris. He is best known for his distinctive stylized theatrical posters that epitomize Art Nouveau, and the inspiration behind the motifs of the Paris Metro. His works has also often inspired Jaeger-LeCoultre’s creativity—leading to the Reverso “The Seasons” in 1996, Reverso “Precious Gemstones” in 1999, and Reverso “Clair de Lune” in 2001. “The Seasons” (1896) was one of Mucha’s earliest decorative panels and became one of his most popular series.
The Seasons (1896)
In this release, the JLC Rare Handcrafts “Métiers Rares” master enameler faces multiple challenges in creating each of the three miniatures that feature on the reverse. The work is inspired by the famous 1896 “The Seasons”, a seminal masterpiece by Alfons Mucha.
Much of the complexity lies in working by hand to scale the original painting—measuring over a meter—onto a surface of 3 cm², during the very process of enameling. The reproduction needs be as faithful as possible, but using different tools and materials from the ones Mucha used.
For instance, the master enameler must painstakingly seek to reproduce the Czech artist’s rich palette. This is made more challenging as in enamel works, there is only a restricted number of colors to work with. Another challenge is the need to anticipate what color the result will be, and the precise amount of time it spends in the oven. The final enamel coat may not achieve the final shade as it may continue to change during the cooling phase after removal from the oven. Additionally, darker shades than the original are needed as various protective layers that are applied over the completed design will alter the painting’s color intensity.
The front face of each watch has been worked in guilloché, made with a vintage rose engine, and requires extremely complex artisanal skills. On this face, a sunburst guilloché appears in relief under the deep color of its transparent enameling.
Mucha captures the atmosphere of spring in his panel – the personifying it as an innocent fair-haired beauty, wearing a translucent white dress under a blossoming tree. And a magnificently engraved frame is sculptured by hand surrounds the enamel painting, and is executed after the enameling. The master engraver must sculpt around the miniature without altering it, before decorating the case with delicate details.
JLC tells us that it took meticulous research and many trials to reproduce the fluid lines of her dress, because the protective coats of enamel hinder some of the spontaneity of this design. The same painstaking attention went into creating even the tiniest details, like the white flowers she wears in her hair, the little birds, and the background, which is itself very rich in detail. An additional difficulty for the enameler was reproducing the monochrome dress, a craft known for its play on multiple colors.
A total of 100 hours of work is required for each caseback decoration. 30 hours for the enamel painting and 70 more for the engraving.
The same style of guilloché is used for Autumn, but executed with a different lacquer cover.
The styling is similar as with the one used for Spring. An elaborate hand engraved frame surrounds the delicate enamel painting which is a very good representation of the original works of Mucha. Much of the sensuousness captured by Mucha is beautifully shown in the enamel works.
Autumn is represented as a playful and bountiful figure. Set amongst a rich tapestry of autumnal plants, fruits and flowers, her long auburn hair holds a wreath of chrysanthemums. She gathers grapes from an abundant vine; a metaphor for the bountiful supplies that Autumn offers.
The enameling process
We have discussed in detail the art of enameling on our report of our visit to Donzé Cadrans. The techniques used are the same, but for the JLC miniature painting, there is the additional artistic work which needs to be captured by the enamel. JLC is one of the early manufactures who specialize in miniature enamel works. But the grand maisons of Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Piaget also feature minature enamel works frequently in their catalog.
The work is painstaking. Before starting to paint, the enameler must analyze the original artwork and resizes it, so it fits the dimensions of the Reverso case. Then, a white enamel base is applied several times to the hollowed-out surface of the gold Reverso case. The piece is placed in the oven at 800°C (Grand Feu means “Big Fire”) so the enamel melts onto the gold.
Just as a painter works on a blank canvas, the enameler creates an outline of the design on this white surface. To achieve the right colors and desired image, successive layers of oxides are applied on so their gorgeous design gradually discloses itself. Repeated firings are carried out between the application of each layer. The final color is only revealed after firing, which means the enamel artist must have perfect mastery of the color palette and be able to anticipate the end result—the color that will become fixed at 800°C.
The last stage is to protect the miniature by applying six to eight layers of protective coating, firing it between layers. This technique is called the “Geneva Technique”. All in all, a minimum of 15 firings are required—and sometimes even more.
Before assembling the Reverso case, the enameler will lap and polish the enamel and gold by hand to restore their full shine. Grand Feu enamel is the most difficult and delicate technique to execute. It requires years of experience and, above all, tremendous patience and meticulousness. To create such masterpieces as these, enamelers must draw on all their senses.
The JLC Reverso Tribute Enamel Mucha is a seminal work by the enamel specialists at Jaeger-LeCoultre. It seals their claim for mastery of this very special art. While almost all other maisons use contract specialists like Anita Porchet for these works, JLC has done this within the manufacture. And this is indeed a superb and significant achievement. The work that started in the early 1990s with Miclos who began his miniature enamel painting works being totally self taught. And now this has transpired and inspired a new generation of enamel artists in the manufacture. This set of watches is proof. The works presented is sublime, and magnificently beautiful.
The watches are the property of Jaeger-LeCoultre, and are currently not for sale. The watches are part of a travelling exhibit, and thus bear the marks of wear and tear as a result of handling. These marks, as well as dust and dirt can be seen in the photographs. Photographed in the JLC Marina Bay Sands Boutique in Singapore. Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 Macro lens via H Adapter G. Profoto strobes.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Mucha – Boutique Edition Specifications
Dimensions: 45.5 mm x 27.4 mm
Thickness: 9.7 mm
Caliber: 822A/2 – Manually wound
Case: White gold/Yellow gold
Front: Grand Feu enamel and guilloché dial
Reverse: Grand Feu miniature enamel and hand engraving
Limited edition available only in Boutiques: 8 pieces for each model
References: Q39334M1, Q39314M2, Q39314M3