The beautiful enamels that decorate some of the most precious Swiss watches have an Italian soul: the one of Vanessa Lecci.
How did you become an enameller?
I came to Switzerland to pursue a career as volleyball player; I’ve been living here for over 20 years, but I still consider myself an Italian artisan in Helvetia. I decided to study and specialize in gem setting. A few years later, Cartier chose me to set the stones for the CPCP collection (Cartier Paris Collection Privée); then I moved to Chaux-de-Fonds, where I was asked to develop the project of the enamelling atelier of the Maison. The atelier I contributed to creating still exists; I followed its first creations. Then I moved to Girard-Perregaux, and started it all over again. In parallel I was developing my own small kingdom… When Patek Philippe called me to work in exclusive for them for two years, I moved to my own atelier in Peseux. And from there, the decision to become an independent and free artisan.
every passage in the kiln demands great attention to achieve perfection, brilliant colours and a smooth, flawless surface
here in Switzerland, land of fine watch-making, enamel is considered as one of the rarest and most prestigious techniques to decorate watches, which are often destined to refined collectors all over the world
Have your education and training contributed to your choice of becoming an enameller?
I have completed my studies in Italy. I attended an art institute close to Lecce, where I specialised in metal-working and goldsmithing; then I studied set design at the Fine Arts Academy. During my studies I had the possibility of discovering the techniques of enamelling, embossing, engraving, working wrought iron… My knowledge of the characteristics of the different metals helped me a lot when I decided to specialise in the enamelling of dials for watches. Being familiar with the fusion temperature of glass, after the first kiln passage at 800°C, is fundamental for me. I enjoy experimenting and observing the reaction of the two materials at the different temperatures. Maybe one day I’ll discover something new!
Enamelling is a technique that can be applied to different fields. Why did you decide to specialise in dials for watches?
In Italy, enamelling is fundamentally associated with the goldsmiths’ work; and quite often, enamelled objects are art pieces tout court. Here in Switzerland, land of fine watch-making, enamel is considered as one of the rarest and most prestigious techniques to decorate watches, which are often destined to refined collectors all over the world. Up to a few years ago, the techniques of cloisonné, champlevé and plique-à-jour were mastered by myself and by a few other artisans only. This idea of working with extremely small details, to develop minute decoration, fascinates me!
Before enamelling, I have to dispose the gold thread: I cut it, adjust it, model it – for the coisonné the thread is thinner that a hair, but with this technique you can create fantastic themes, that look like an embroidery. It is a very challenging job: the risk of spoiling the work is very high...
Could you disclose some more details about the enamelling of a dial?
First, you have to reduce glass into a very thin powder. Once the powder is displayed in the different parts of the metal plaque, according to the colours and the themes, it has to be fired in the kiln at a temperature of 800°C: in my case, the plaque or the plafond are in gold.
The enamel is layered 4 or 5 times: every time it has to fired again, up to finishing the decoration, fulfilling the dedicated spaces and obtaining the expected width. On a watch dial, several techniques can be used to obtain precision in the decoration. The two main techniques that I master are cloisonné and champlevé, which are strictly artisanal, but I also use the plique-à-jour, which gives a result similar to the stained glass windows.
Every passage in the kiln demands great attention to achieve perfection, brilliant colours and a smooth, flawless surface. A few months ago a Korean artist, who studied the Japanese enamelling techniques, joined me in my atelier: her support is fundamental to work on techniques like miniature or grisaille, but also to introduce new possibilities, like the time-honoured Asian techniques.
Who are your clients?
My main clients are the Maisons of fine watch-making. But I also work for some jewellers, who require enamel for their creations; private clients who want to customise their watches or jewel; or persons who ask for advice, if they have to launch their own lines of jewels or decorative objects. I am also experimenting how to introduce Grand-Feu enamelling in furniture, to add a touch of colours to interior design. I often cooperate with designers from different fields, including fashion. Enamel can really have the most diverse applications.
Do you think that your activity could be interesting for the young generations?
In 2016 I had the great opportunity of participating in the Journée Européennes des Métiers d’Art, which for the first time took place in the Neuchâtel Canton.
I opened the doors of my atelier to visitors, among which there were many young people, who were curious to discover a manual, artisanal and rare métier: I was surprised to see how numerous they were! I think there is a great need to rediscover one’s own talent and manual dexterity, to express oneself through the gesture. And finally, for me it is very important to pass down to the next generation my own know-how: it is part of that trace which we leave on this Earth, as artisans, and which I would define as my own immortality…