The houses of Chanel and Lesage blend the art of embroidery with top-notch watchmaking to create a true “métiers d’art.”
Handmade in heaven! The Mademoiselle Privé watch features a dial embroidered by Maison Lesage with silk threads and natural pearls that is encased by 18k white gold and 60 brilliantcut diamonds (price on request).
Over the past decade, a term (and form) has emerged in the horological community that has come to describe one of the most highly esteemed achievements in the making of timepieces: Métiers d’art—Chanel’s homage to the esteemed (mostly family-owned) ateliers and artisans with whom they partner for finely detailed pieces. Creating a masterpiece, whether in woodworking, sculpture, or on a watchface, is a coveted art requiring rare levels of craftsmanship.
Chanel’s Swiss-made watches have taken the Métiers d’art concept to new heights by calling on famed embroidery house Lesage to hand-stitch diamonds, gold, and pearls directly onto its dials. The detailed, labor-intensive process calls for everything to be done by hand at the Maison Lesage workshops.
For more than 150 years, the fine embroidery house has painstakingly stitched works of wonder in haute couture for such brands as Charles Frederick Worth, Jeanne Paquin, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Dior. In 2002, Lesage joined forces with Chanel, collaborating on haute couture collections with a commitment to preserving the exceptional craftsmanship that defines Lesage embroidery.
The Lesage archives represent the largest collection of couture embroidery in the world, with more than 60,000 samples and an extraordinary 60-plus tons of tassels, ribbons, beads, crystals, and cabochons sourced over several decades. Each year, Lesage adds approximately 100 new embroideries to its lineup—using more than 60 pounds of beads and 100 million sequins.
In fine time: Chanel and Maison Lesage created this Mademoiselle Privé Camélia Brodé timepiece in 18k yellow gold set with 60 brilliant-cut diamonds and an embroidered dial set with one rose-cut diamond, yellow- and white-gold paillons, and gold thread (inset) ($41,900). Chanel Fine Jewelry, 400 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-278-5055
The work is conducted in the bustling, yet quiet rooms at an atelier just outside of Paris. Here, a team of highly skilled artisans hand-applies the incredible embroidery, sequins, and beads to clothing and accessories. This is also where the embroidery work— complete with diamonds, pearls, and specially made silk threads—is done to create the dials for Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé watch collection.
“We have worked with Lesage for years on the fashion and couture side to ensure this savoir faire lives on,” says Nicolas Beau, international director of Chanel Watches. “It has been normal for us to work with small companies in the Métiers d’art because these people [like the artisans who work at Lesage] are the ones with the magical hands who make things happen. So when Métiers d’art began appearing on watches, we knew we had something truly special and turned to Lesage to help us execute it.”
Along with the decision to create a hand-stitched dial came myriad challenges. Unlike embroidery on a dress, a hand-stitched watch dial has to resist continual exposure to ultraviolet light without fading; it must be strong enough to withstand minor bumps; and it has to be made of threads that will last the life of the watch. Beau says Chanel and Lesage worked together to develop a special silk for the dial that was both strong and would not spill any silk dust (thereby damaging the watch). They then developed special gold threads and metallic paillons knowing that traditional embroidery materials, like cotton, wouldn’t work.
Unveiled two years ago, the first embroidered watches boasted pure silk threads and were so revolutionary that Chanel won the Artistic Crafts award at the 2013 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Since then, Chanel has stepped up the design and technique in its new pieces every year, including the use of gold threads in 2014 and, this year, adding glass beads and pearls to the mix. In fact, each time the brand opts to include a new element on a dial, the experts must work side by side with Lesage to create tiny new settings and develop methods that will hold the elements in place.
The Mademoiselle Privé collection was selected for this special Métiers d’art Lesage line, according to Beau, because it epitomizes the brand’s artistically inspired dials. The name derives from a sign on the door of the late, legendary Coco Chanel’s studio, which warned visitors that the area was a private space. “That patrimony translated nicely into a collection,” says Beau, “and expanding that collection to include Lesage, with designs inspired by the coromandel screens in [Coco Chanel’s] apartment, was perfect.”
Several top artisans create the Lesage dials, so every one is a unique, handmade piece. Once Lesage completes the embroidered designs, they are delicately packaged and sent directly to Chanel’s watchmaking workshop, Châtelain, in the Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds, where they are applied to the final timepieces. “These dials have a life of their own,” says Beau. “They are a story that connects the brand, the craft, the couture status, and embraces the spirit of Chanel.”