Opening the circle
One does not meet elements of Art Deco in modern interiors or in works of living artists every day. Why should it come, that a style, which stopped thundering nearly a century ago, suddenly starts to invade our lives uncontrollably? Upon that, the watch industry mysteriously became almost a preserve of 1920-40-ies aesthetics. Moreover, there are not so many accidents here.
Luxury at all times
Bright and emotions-filled images, expensive and exotic materials, the finest finishing, imparting of high art status to ancient crafts. Something like this is common to describe objects of luxury belonging to the style of the roaring 1920s. Now open a fresh press release of any Swiss manufacturer and try to find at least a couple of differences. In a sense, luxury watches and fundamental principles of Art Deco – it's a match made in heaven.
Reviewing the current proposal from the leading Swiss brands, one can easily make sure that the jazz era aesthetics is not going anywhere, though it does not occupy first and second places in the current ranking. Of course, this does not mean that any item, combining a yellow gold case with a black dial, automatically falls into the category of modernism’s heirs. However, one should not ignore some elements, many influences and borrowings. Over the course of time, we have almost ceased to notice them anyway.
Progress does not stop
What was the innovation in the fashion of that time, bringing in unison artists, architects, designers and jewelers? Primarily, it is a commitment to clear geometric lines. Style establishing coincided with the final transition of large cities on technology rails, and art began to gain inspiration instead of nature from the fruit of gentrification around. Zigzag-shaped and stepped forms, passion for contour and contrast are from here. Nevertheless, in watchmaking the main revolution was the case shape, of course.
A retreat from the round shape, inherited by fashionable wrist items from pocket ones, was almost mainstreaming. The path breaker was the legendary Cartier Tank, which celebrates this year a centenary. Created after the First World War and named after its main technological novelty, the model resembled the outlines of a combat vehicle. In combination with a steel wristband, distinctly repeating the tracks structure, the product looked ultramodern and could easily confuse purists. According to legend, the first copy was even presented to the legendary American general John Joseph Pershing.
It is noteworthy that under the significant dial hid a caliber from Jaeger company, which tightly collaborated with LeCoultre & Cie for more than ten years already. About fifteen years later due to the efforts of these companies the most famous watch of the era appeared – Reverso – with rotating case and engraving on the backside. Competitors kept busy also: Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Girard-Perregaux, Piaget and other heavyweights successfully experimented with new forms. As a result, in addition to the rectangular shape the familiar tonneau and cushion shapes came into use.
After the Second World War passion for modernist splendor down trended sharply and returned into the watch industry only five decades and one of the quartz crisis later. 1990-s were marked by the revival of the range Reverso from Jaeger-LeCoultre, start of the Calatrava line from Patek Philippe, and by a number of elegant noncircular models from other top brands. Their gradual evolution up to our days took course just the same way: taking out of the storage the celebrated mechanical old-timers, Swiss manufactories began to integrate prestigious complications into them. And now in the repertoire of many brands there are dozens variations of well-known watches with perpetual calendars, chronographs, tourbillons and all, what fans of haute horlogerie can only imagine. However, there is an idea that if only small dials of a chronograph become a full part of the century-old legends design even the most rectangular models in the world immediately cease to refer to the Golden Age of Jazz and turn into a sport-oriented and modern ones.
Having inherited the playful look of its century-old predecessor, the Historiques American 21 from Vacheron Constantin look very original, even nowadays. A temporary display is significantly shifted clockwise, and the crown and is located on the corner. The thing is that back in the day the brand engineers decided to create a perfect watch for automobilists: the figures get into the usual position only when the hand is on the steering wheel.
In the Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 series, there are as classical models that combine strict minimalism of a rectangular dial with recognizable elements of the 20s, as accentuated modern skeletonized images with a lot of complications and even three branded gold bridges. Lady exemplars are of course encrusted with diamonds, and would feel perfectly in the days of Fitzgerald when the dresses were rapidly losing the sleeves, and bracelets winded round free wrists.
The most typical Art Deco characteristics are easy to find in the line Black Tie from Piaget also. Starting from the Vintage Inspiration model with a stepped bezel, a black dial and a shape, balancing on the edge of a square and a circle, and ending with the Emperador collection with guilloched patterns in the form of modernist rays of the sun and aggressive triangular elements.
Anyway, the overwhelming majority of watches, inheriting the aesthetic codes of Art Deco, automatically fall into the category of dress or evening ones. Modernism, cubism and constructivism, glorifying forms and speeds of a technological century, now look a graceful memory of the naive and hopeful humanity of the past. Once aggressive forms turned into the gold standard of elegance and restraint, especially against the background of modern mechanical avant-garde in 50 mm cases.