Best known for the woodblock print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes the iconic Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the Edo period. His series of 8 woodblock prints depicting waterfalls across Japan, is considered to be one of the finest representations of landscapes ever produced. In its latest homage to Asian art, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduces the Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai ‘Amida Falls’, honouring the work of the 19th-century Japanese master.
Showcasing the expertise of the Manufacture’s Métiers Rares® atelier in the crafts of guillochage, miniature painting and Grand Feu enamelling, Jaeger-LeCoultre uses its most iconic “canvas” to render the exquisitely detailed Grand Feu enamelled reproduction of Hokusai’s woodblock print The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road (Kisoji no oku Amida-ga-taki) on the case-back is complemented by a green guilloché Grand Feu enamel dial.
The power of Hokusai’s original image and faithfully reproduce every detail on a surface of just three square centimetres – little more than one-tenth the size of the original – a perfect detailed reproduction standing in contrast to the simplicity of the Reverso Tribute dial – with its faceted appliqué hour-markers and Dauphine hands – places full value on the beauty of its decoration. Complementing the miniature painting on the case back, this dial is decorated with a guilloché lozenge pattern – the texture of which is amplified by translucent Grand Feu enamel in a rich shade of green.
Completing the Reverso Tribute trilogy dedicated to Hokusai, which started with The Great Wave off Kanagawa in 2018 and the Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain in 2021, the creating the latest Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai ‘Amida Falls’ was still no mean feat. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s master artisans had not only to miniaturise and perfectly mimic every detail of the composition but also to create the illusion of the woodblock printing technique – a specific effect entirely different from enamelling. To achieve this, the enamellers had to develop a special technique that reproduces the characteristic bokashi effect of the subtly nuanced and graduated colours of works originally printed on paper, while also capturing the vivid blues and yellows that are a signature of Hokusai’s work. It is a carefully orchestrated process of many stages, which represents a full 70 hours of work over the course of many weeks, including a total of 12–15 separate firings at 800 degrees Celsius.
Indeed, Hokusai influenced the Impressionism movement, with themes echoing his work appearing in the work of Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil in Germany. His woodcuts were collected by many European artists, including Degas, Gauguin, Klimt, Manet, and van Gogh. Hence it is historical symmetry that today, those metal cutting techniques mirroring Hokusai’s wood cutting techniques, are used to breathe new light and life into one of watchmaking’s most iconic dials.
Executed by hand, using a century-old lathe, the lozenge pattern requires great dexterity and skill: holding the dial plate at a carefully calculated angle, each of the 60 lines that make up the pattern requires three passages of the lathe – making 600 passages altogether; for every passage, the plate must be held at precisely the same angle to ensure that the lines are crisply etched and the pattern is perfectly symmetrical. This process alone requires around four hours of extremely focused work, and is followed by the application of at least six layers of translucent enamel, each of which requires separate firing, spanning more than a week. Once the enamelling has been completed, the final challenge is the faultless application of the indexes (which requires tiny holes to be drilled through the pristine surface of the enamel) and the transfer of the chemin de fer minutes register.
The new Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai ‘Amida Falls’ not only epitomises the Grand Maison’s philosophical intimacy with art and culture but also serves as testament to the exceptional artistry and skill of the artisans working in the Manufacture’s Métiers Rares (Rare Handcrafts) atelier.