Artistic expression meets haute horology in Baume & Mercier’s tribute to artist Pierre Soulages.

The Hampton “Hommage à Pierre Soulages”, is an exclusive and limited timepiece by Baume & Mercier that pays homage to one of the true great masters of modern art. For this unique take, the House takes inspiration from the artist’s work as a whole to produce a unique and original timepiece befitting the artist’s credentials.

A Homage To Modern Art

Pierre Soulages

In January 1979, the major abstract artist Pierre Soulages inaugurated a series of works at his Parisian workshop which he called Noir-Lumière. In 1989, the series became known as Outrenoir.  The surface of each painting is coated with black paint in various states, textured into low relief with tools and brushes.

Each Outrenoir painting plays on with the light that reveals its appearance to the viewer, particularly as the person moves. “When the light is more intensely reflected, the black appears less black, and its surface effects become more noticeable, more active,” asserted Soulages in 2007. Soulages’ black successively appears glossy or matte.

Now with the support from Musée Soulages and the Association des Amis du Musée, watchmaker Baume & Mercier approached Pierre Soulages with the project for a unique watch paying tribute to his work.

Liberally taking inspiration from an Outrenoir painting by Pierre Soulages, the watchmaker has turned the painting into a watch creation. One work in particular guided the experiment, the exceedingly elevated Peinture 390 x 130 cm 17 mars 2019.

Although the idea is based on admiration and recognition, bringing it to life posed a number of technical challenges. For starters, the artwork, which the timepiece takes inspiration from features overlapped panels of slanted streaks which sweep from one side of the composition to the other.

The action painting technique that Soulages applies here consists of developed cuts into the black acrylic material to produce a variety of matte-and-shine effects. This allows the light released by the painting to come alive, bearing a full spectrum of colours. The challenge of the watch designer was to reflect the spirit and content of this work in the form of a timepiece.

Merging Art With Horology

Baume & Mercier “Hampton Hommage à Pierre Soulages”

With Outrenoir serving as a source of inspiration, the Baume & Mercier team took care to bring out contrasts in the way light reflects off the watch components. Each detail of the dial and case is eloquent, revealing the beauty of the timepiece.

The finishes take on their full meaning, as pertinent on the watch as they are on a painting. As for the research into colour – black –, the exploration of its intensity was a major pursuit. The pursuit – a black so deep that it would have an effect on the emotion.

Baume & Mercier fittingly chose the Hampton model for its transposition of an Outrenoir work into a timepiece. The iconic Hampton asserts a rectangular dial and case evoking the proportions of a canvas. Since its launch in 1994, the Hampton has represented the ultimate non-round watch.

Peinture 390 x 130 cm

It is distinctive for its design, inherited from one of the House’s models dating from the 1960s that was in turn inspired by the Art Deco of the 1920s. The aesthetic approach to clean, curved lines and perfect proportion demonstrates the artistic sense that is so important to the House.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that the model has taken the Greek letter Phi – a reference to the golden ratio – as its emblem. The formal minimalism and understatement of the Hampton “Hommage à Pierre Soulages” helps to showcase this tribute to Pierre Soulages’ artwork, while the restraint of the refined timepiece echoes the purity that characterizes his paintings.

Even the exclusive case in which the watch is presented pays tribute to the contemporary architecture of Musée Soulages, designed by the Catalan RCR Arquitectes who won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2017. The cladding of the building is made up of Corten steel, which has an appearance of iridescent rust.

From Painting Techniques To Watchmaking Technology

In the exciting, innovative interaction between art and watchmaking, technical achievement is the keystone of the Baume & Mercier Hampton “Hommage à Pierre Soulages.” A watch dial miniaturization serves as a fascinating interpretation of a large-scale painting.

To create this effect, Baume & Mercier makes use of new 3D printing technologies for this achievement.  For the dial, brass machined with a laser was found to suitably meet this challenge. Candia stone is used to create a diffuse matte effect, and an electroplating process is then applied to coat it with colour through electrolysis to a thickness of 0.2 microns. A final coat of sheer, semi-matte protective lacquer fills the piece with masterful contrasts of black.

On the face, the faceted brass “glaive” hands are diamond-ground, sand-blasted, and then coated with black PVD. A touch of gold is added to the end of each one on request by Pierre Soulages in order to elegantly emphasize the passage of time.

The case, sculpted in a stainless steel block, is sand-blasted, and then coated with hydrogenated amorphous carbon ions through plasma-assisted chemical vapor deposition (PACVD). Each material and finish is more ingenious than the last, capturing and sculpting the light, borrowing from the artist’s strokes to bring movement to the shapes and rhythm to the material.

Final Touches

At the heart of the timepiece is a self-winding mechanical Swiss caliber (ETA 2892) featuring a black oscillating weight adorned with a “Côtes de Genève” that can be seen through the transparent watch back. The back bears a “Hommage à Mr Soulages” engraving.

To intensify the chromatic depth of the watch, it comes complete with a built-in interchangeable strap in black leather with square scales and a nubuck finish that fastens with a pin buckle in DLC steel.

This unique timepiece, of an exceptional technical and aesthetic complexity, offers a harmonious play on contrasting blacks through subtle nuances of mattes, semi-mattes, shine, and diffuse layers, in keeping with the spirit of Pierre Soulages’ work. The strength of black is majestically represented in this tribute to the paintings of one of the most fascinating artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Baume & Mercier “Hampton Hommage à Pierre Soulages” will be produced on demand in an edition limited to 102 (reflecting the age of the artist) individually numbered watches. It will be available exclusively upon pre-order this February through Baume & Mercier.

(Images: Baume & Mercier)

written by.
Richard Augustin
Former chef turned writer; Richard has tip-toed around the publishing industry for two decades. When not busy chasing deadlines, you can still find him experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.

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