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The materials traditionally used in watchmaking are steel and brass for the movement, steel and precious metals for the cases. But creators sometimes prove so ingenious that they incorporate surprising and unusual materials. Here are a few examples.

Embroidered dials

Traditional or modern, the techniques used are more varied than one might think. Piaget creates customised dials using the micro-pointillism technique, while Hublot transposes in a surprising way the ancestral technique of St Gallen embroidery onto a Big Bang watch: the elements of embroidery on tulle are fixed and moulded in carbon fibre to amplify the texture. In 2013, a Chanel watch embroidered by the needle painting technique won a Grand prix d’horlogerie in Geneva.

Straw marquetry

In 2012 Hermès reinterpreted the technique of straw marquetry. Employed originally in furniture, the transposition of this technique onto a watch dial called for a long and difficult effort of miniaturisation. Rye straw is first cut by hand after which the strands are coloured in depth and left to dry, so revealing a range of different nuances. They are then opened up with a fine blade and flattened using a tool made of bone. Playing on colours and the direction of the strands, the craftsman assembles his motifs on paper before gluing them together and transferring them to the watch dial.

Feather craftsmanship

The feathers are carefully sorted and selected for their stability, density and fineness, cleaned, stabilised with steam and cut again by hand. Before fitting on an oscillating weight such as the Grand Bal by Dior, they are cut out, assembled and secured on fine gold whalebone-shaped strips. Each weight is set with 19 feathers positioned in a quincunx shape. When they are fitted on Harry Winston’s Premier Feathers watch dial, the technique resembles that of marquetry. The feathers are positioned to reproduce the desired motif before being glued flat.

New materials

In response to increasingly stringent development demands, the automobile and aviation industries have been greatly influenced by the appearance of new materials. Metal and non-metallic alloys, ceramics, carbon nanofibres, silicon and plenty of other materials are no longer regarded as being exclusive to those particular sectors. On the contrary, they open up fabulous opportunities for the watch industry. When Richard Mille first brought out the RM 001 in 2001, he explored this entirely new area in the world of watchmaking by using these new materials for his watches.