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The Poetry of Time: Jean-Marc Wiederrecht

A brief interview with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, acclaimed watchmaker of Van Cleef & Arpels and Stephanie Sykes, Art Dubai.

Wednesday, 03.03.2010
16:30 (Cet)

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Van Cleef & Arpels will organise an exclusive exhibition celebrating nearly one hundred years of watchmaking creation dedicated to the Poetry of Time. The Poetry of Time is the title of both a coffee-table book published by Van Cleef & Arpels and the programme of this exclusive exhibition created for Art Dubai. Taking the form of an enchanted promenade, it offers a voyage of discovery to the heart of the Poetry of Time, punctuated by the presentation of iconic Van Cleef & Arpels timepieces which illustrates its unique style and savoir-faire.

A workshop section coordinated by the master watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht will enable everyone to discover the secret mechanisms of watches, while Dominique Baron will unveil her enamelling craftsmanship and reveal how simple pigments can bring luxurious settings to life.
Furthermore, Art Dubai has enabled Van Cleef & Arpels to pledge its support to "Start", a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2007 by Art Dubai and the Al Madad Foundation, which gives to disadvantaged children from the Middle East the opportunity to take part in numerous artistic activities. Van Cleef & Arpels will put a Charms watch for sale during the "Start dinner" and will donate 5% of its sales revenue generated during the fair to the organisation.

Stephanie Sykes: You chose the profession of watch-making at a very young age. What prompted you to pursue this career?

Jean-Marc Wiederrecht: I was attracted to mechanical things from a very young age, to games such as LEGO and MECANO, to taking old watches and alarm clocks apart and putting them back together again and to repairing small motors! At 17, I was lucky enough to meet an old Genevan artisan watchmaker who showed me around his workshop. His work fascinated me and after a short internship with him, I decided to call a halt to my secondary-school studies to follow a professional training course at the Watchmaking School in Geneva.

Over the span of your career, how have technological advancements impacted your personal approach to watch-making?

I greatly admire and respect the fine watchmaking that was carried out by the master watchmakers of the past, who managed to create real masterpieces with infinitely less sophisticated technology than that which we use today. The finest watchmakers have always sought to use and invent new manufacturing methods that enabled them to produce increasingly complex mechanisms necessary for their new timepieces.
Personally, I take a very keen interest in all types of new technology and materials, even if – and especially if – they are not initially destined for watchmaking. Machining methods that were unimaginable a few years ago now make the creation of new objects possible.

Please tell us about your relationship with Van Cleef & Arpels. How did your journey with the Maison begin, and how has it evolved over time?

Van Cleef & Arpels approached me at the end of 2004 and asked me to study the development of a bi‑retrograde and alarm module adapted to the Jaeger-LeCoultre JLC Memovox movement. The following year I developed a module for them that indicated the remaining power reserve on the side of the watch. These first two developments were destined to equip men’s watches in particular.

2005 saw the beginning of the great Van Cleef & Arpels’ poetic watches adventure (they were given this name later), with the development of the "Quantième de saisons" watch, crafted to commemorate the Maison’s centenary in 2006. Variations of this watch, including "Opéra", "Océanide" and "Jardins", appeared in the years that followed. "Midnight in Paris" and "Fée" were made in 2008 and 2009 respectively. In 2010, two new exceptional models were presented at the SIHH: the "Butterfly Symphony" and the already famous "Pont des amoureux".

My collaboration with Van Cleef & Arpels is both fascinating and intense. We have created a new category of watchmaking complications, Poetic Time, which promises many more beautiful watchmaking and artistic emotions to come.

Tell us more about the balance between form and function. How do you collaborate with specialised watch artists to create a product that is both visually and technologically innovative?

In general, watchmaking brands choose existing movements and call on their stylists to give each of their products a new, unique identity.
The constraints linked to the small size of wristwatches and the very limited amount of energy available place certain restrictions on creativity. The creation of a watch with new functions and/or decorative elements is generally the result of an intense collaboration between people with very different imperatives: the brand manager, artists, designers and sales reps on the one hand, and the watchmakers, developers, and craftsmen specialised in the exterior decoration of watches on the other. Clear guidelines, an excellent understanding of the brand and a shared passion are indispensable to obtaining the right results.

Why is The Poetry of Time a significant exhibition not only for Van Cleef & Arpels, but also for the jewellery and watch industries?

Van Cleef & Arpels has established a new theme in watchmaking thanks to its latest creations: Poetic Time. The traditional hands and discs used to indicate the time are replaced by moving poetic emblems, such as butterflies, dragonflies, fairies, enamelled gold discs, and even hands in the form of miniature characters. The precise and austere act of reading the time is thus softened by evocations of art, poetry and life.

The traditional mechanisms of very fine watchmaking are made more dynamic by the addition of elements created using the latest technology, which is used to manufacture new parts for the watch’s display as well as mechanical components for its movement. 
A "traditional" complication watch demonstrates the mastery of watchmaking technique. Function is the priority and is often glorified by parts of the watch exterior.
On the other hand, a "poetic" complication watch favours artistic aspects and professions. While the timekeeping remains perfectly precise, it becomes secondary. Choosing to accentuate artistic or poetic expressions can be the choice of any watchmaker and jeweller.

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