“Watchmaking in Geneva, the magic of craftsmanship, treasures of gold and enamel” has the support of Chopard, a watchmaker anchored in tradition for which these treasures of the past, showcased in Geneva, constitute an extraordinary heritage which the Manufacture perpetuates.

Watchmaking in Geneva, the magic of craftsmanship, treasures of gold and enamel is a shining example of how an exhibition can seize the very substance of horology past and present. Held at the Musée Rath in Geneva during the first months of the year, it benefited from the support of Chopard, a company which realised early on the importance of Manufacture status. It is a journey into the intricacies of the métiers d’art and savoir-faire of centuries past which, in comparison, could almost label later practitioners,however worthy, mere amateurs on more than one count.

The modern era has, in all fairness, contributed its share of technical and technological genius, as illustrated by the giant strides Chopard has taken in mechanical watchmaking, and still our ancestors’ deftness leaves us in awe. The visit is all the more fascinating knowing that most of the twenty thousand objects in the Geneva collections are stashed away, with no adequate venue in which to display them after two burglaries at the Musée d’Horlogerie de Genève in the early 2000s forced the museum to close. A sad state of affairs for a city reputed one of the cradles of Swiss watchmaking!

A journey into the infinitely small Impossible to take in each of the 1,500 objects on show, thus Estelle Fallet, curator of the horology, enamel, jewellery and miniatures collections of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de la Ville de Genève, repository of these publicly-owned treasures, proposed a visit on the theme of the infinitely small. “Each subject is rendered with extraordinary finesse, expressing skills which are constantly enriched and improved as they are handed down from generation to generation, and which represent the height of both technique and artistry,” she explained in her introduction. “The meticulous care devoted to each square millimetre is a quality shared by timepieces, jewels, enamelwork and miniature painting. The weeks, months, sometimes years required to create each of these masterpieces are fraught with danger, whether a slip of the hand or a disastrous last firing. These are treasures of patience and devotion, and in many cases their completion is nothing short of a miracle.” For proof, one only need contemplate a work by the dial painter Pierre Reymond, produced in Geneva between 1873 and 1874, comprising a portrait of Christ framed by an atlas of eight detailed maps. Despite the tiny supports, each country is depicted with its main towns, rivers and elevations labelled. Imagine, then, the visitor’s surprise when invited to view the portrait of Christ in greater detail, with the aid of a magnifier. What appeared to be black lines marking the contours of the face are in fact sentences relating his life, painstakingly traced in microscopic letters. A work so astonishing that experts have yet to fully fathom the techniques Reymond employed to produce such a marvel. Equally astounding is a working pistol in 22 parts, entirely handmade by Adolphe Audemars between 1845 and 1850 for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. A pistol that measures five and a half millimetres! Elsewhere, the delicate markers that circle a clock dial reveal themselves to be letters just half a millimetre tall which spell out the Lord’s Prayer.

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