Louis Erard Introduces The Excellence Marqueterie Limited Edition (Live Photos)
Considered Louis Erard’s flagship collection, the Excellence welcomes a new model to showcase the heritage brand’s highly popular pursuit in métiers d’art collaborations. In a limited edition of only 99 pieces comes the Excellence Marqueterie boasting a micro-marquetry dial in four shades from two types of wood. Painstakingly handcrafted with surgical precision by renowned artisan Bastien Chevalier, the marquetry dial comprises 70 elements housed inside a 42mm polished steel case.
A new phase for Louis Erard
Founded in 1929, Louis Erard saw its most recent revival in 2003 and has been under the strategic direction of Manuel Emch (former Jaquet Droz and Romain Jerome CEO) since 2019. The Swiss independent brand’s desirability shot through the roof with Emch’s arrival, and something just clicked into place. Suddenly, Louis Erard was fresh, exciting, and stirring collectors’ fervor for every launch. And that “something” was the new creative route for the products, starting with a collaboration touting audacious watch designer Alain Silberstein to create the limited-edition Excellence Regulator watch. More GPHG-nominated and sell-out collaborations followed it, including another regulator watch with master watchmaker Vianney Halter.
A new stablemate alongside the iconic regulators
Continuing Emch’s winning formula, Louis Erard presents a modernized design language using artistic crafts through collaborations in limited series. The latest Excellence Marqueterie employs a relatively new form of métiers d’art in watchmaking. Better known as miniature marquetry, the centuries-old wood-decoration techniques for furniture have been modified for microscopic ornamentation of watch dials. Marquetry involves creating decorative patterns of thin sheets of shiny wood in different colors and attaching them to a surface. Compared to classical engraving and enameling, modern dial marquetry is much lesser known and is typically found in upscale watches.
Among the first proponents was Patek Philippe. The Genevan brand introduced the Black Crowned Cranes of Kenya pocket watch in 2008, followed by the Royal Tiger with a wood marquetry dial in 2010. Cartier and Hermès have also created marquetry watches. The same style is exactly what we’re seeing in the Excellence Marqueterie. The process involves stacking wood sheets and cutting them into segments by hand with a very fine saw blade, precise to a tenth of a millimeter. Once the required pieces are carved out for a particular design pattern, they are positioned on a dial using a scalpel and affixed by hot glue with no margin of error. That means that there is only one chance to get it right. Finally, the surface is delicately sanded down to the correct thickness by a hair’s breadth.
A new collaboration
To achieve this assiduous feat, Louis Erard has called on expert craftsman Bastien Chevalier. Chevalier is one of fewer than a handful of artisans who can perform at this level. He has been mastering marquetry for more than two decades with his own techniques, including how he controls his breathing to remain steady-handed. This prize-winning maestro of marquetry has become so renowned in the watch industry that the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry even featured him here.
The marquetry master
This is a highly specialized craft of which fewer and fewer people are capable. Those who remain devoted are driven by the love of their artistry. Chevalier created his artistic marquetry workshop in 2003, producing fine pieces and commissions in various forms and sizes. Then came a defining moment around 2010 when marquetry on watch dials saw a surge of interest. Since then, Chevalier has primarily worked on watches for private clients and watchmakers such as Parmigiani Fleurier, Vacheron Constantin, ArtyA, and Vianney Halter. He also signs “bch.” on the dial of the Excellence Marqueterie.
The marquetry art
For the graphics, Louis Erard chose a cubed motif that was once used in a series of 99 hand-guilloché watches. The geometric pattern not only lends a modern expression to the crafted dial but also produces an optical illusion of a three-dimensional structure under the light. It combines three shades of blue-stained tulipwood and a gray-tinted willow burl, all cut along the grain. Other than that, the time-only dial only features the brand’s signature fir-tree-shaped hour and minute hands in blued steel.
The quality build
This work of art lays across the full diameter of the 42mm circular case. The polished stainless steel case is water-resistant to 50 meters. The crown also features the signature fir-tree-shaped notches to provide a grip for winding. Topping it off is a domed sapphire crystal with the brand logo in black on the underside and an antireflective treatment on both sides. While it measures 12.25mm thick and 49.60mm from lug to lug, the tapering and contouring of the case help the watch hug the wrist surprisingly well.
The movement within
Through the transparent blue case back, the automatic Sellita caliber SW261-1 displays its partially open-worked rotor, which dons a black lacquered Louis Erard graphic logo. The blue glass is a coherent design choice and perhaps more enjoyable than the rather industrial finishing of this movement. The SW261-1 runs at 28,800vph (4Hz) and provides 38 hours of power reserve.
The value proposition
Each of the 99 Excellence Marqueterie watches has an engraving with its limited-edition number on the case back. The watch comes complete with a grained blue calfskin strap with a polished stainless steel pin buckle. And Louis Erard is staying true to its ethos of affordable luxury too in pricing this at CHF 3,900. If the successes of the previous Excellence Métiers D’Art models are anything to go by, I would not hang around too long to snap this one up.
For more information, visit the Louis Erard website.