High Relief: Breguet Cammea And The Art Of Cameo Carving
There has never been more appreciation for craftsmanship in watchmaking, and Breguet’s Reine de Naples Cammea watches, and Secret de la Reine incorporates one of the most ancient of decorative techniques.
Métiers d'art — it means arts and crafts in French. In the early days of watchmaking, timepieces were all bespoke, made mostly for members of court and nobility. At the time, the aesthetics of creating a timepiece mattered as much as its accuracy. In fact, it wasn't until 1680 that minute hands were added to clocks. In the 1700s, technology advanced by leaps and bounds. And the industrial revolution of the 1800s brought mass production.
While technology is a beautiful thing, we started to lose some of those artisanal traditions in horology. But the last couple of years have seen a resurgence in these crafts and more. We have been treated to engraved cases and amazing dials decorated with everything from enamel to semiprecious mosaics, and feathers to wood marquetry.
One reason these techniques have risen in popularity is that because of the complexity required, these timepieces are literally one-of-a-kind. Production of métiers d'art pieces has risen due to the increase in demand. But in the case of Breguet, these pieces are more than just beautiful objects. As the venerable brand's specialty is also one of the oldest arts known to man —cameo engraving.
THE GRAND TOUR
Cameo is a method of carving a raised, relief image onto gemstones or shells of contrasting colors. This art originated back in classical times when the ancient Romans and Greeks produced miniature portraits or scenes from mythology that were later set into jewelry.
In the 1800s, archaeology and exploration became a thing, which led to renewed interest in Cameos. Queen Victoria made them one of her style signatures making them even more popular. It became de riguer for any young lady of means to bring a few back as a souvenir of her grand tour of Europe.
During this time, the village of Torre del Greco, nestled at the feet of Mount Vesuvius became the hub of cameo carving in Italy. And just as Abraham-Louis Breguet was from Neuchâtel, the center of watchmaking in Switzerland, there is something about being born into a culture of craft that makes you appreciate its importance.
Breguet the brand has been a champion of the decorative arts since its birth in 1775. While the art has never been lost at Breguet, post-Quartz Crisis, most watchmakers focussed on the craft of mechanical movements with an emphasis on complications. Rediscovering the métiers d’art is the logical next step in offering something exclusive and exciting. But that’s not to say that the decorative side doesn’t offer its own technical challenges.
Breguet's Cameo collection includes the Breguet Reine de Naples 8958 Cammea Sunflower, Breguet Reine de Naples 8958 Cammea Chinese Zodiac, and Secret de la Reine GJ24. These delicate depictions of sunflowers, roses, and animals from Asian astrology engraved from a natural seashell. The materials must be carefully selected so that the artists can optimize the contrasting color with the shell.
Then the artisans must carefully replicate the design on the dial (or in the case of the Secret de la Reine, the cover) of the watch. One little crack or chip and the artist has to start all over again.
When this miniature tableau forms the dial, Breguet must fit it to the watch's movement, hands, and case. Once the carving is complete, flat spots on the back are then secured to the movement. Again, each relief is unique, carved from natural materials, and therefore each pairing comes with its own challenges.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Breguet’s cameo collections not only help keep this ancient art alive they also help uphold the tradition of merging craft with haute horlogerie. The Reine de Naples Cammea and Secret de la Reine are unique in the world of fine watchmaking as the only timepieces offering the art of cameo. But they also feature many other examples of beautiful watch and jewelry making. Self-winding movements power both. (And because each example is individual in its colors and design, it also reflects the personality and power of its owner.)
The Reine de Naples Cammea and Chinese Horoscope dials are set in a white gold case surrounded by diamonds. The Secret is available in both rose gold and white gold, with either a leather strap or a woven gold bracelet. The cameo rose of the Secret comes on a hinged cover, with a diamond set, bow-shaped bezel tied around the rose. The mother-of-pearl oval is inscribed with the Breguet logo.
In addition, the cameo rose also occurs in Breguet's jewelry and fine jewelry earrings, rings, bracelets, pendants, and necklaces, if you wanted to create a full parure of these carvings, which you do.