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, Katsushika Hokusai. The case-back of the new timepiece is decorated with a hand- enamelled miniature reproduction of The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road (Kisoji no oku Amida-ga-taki), the best-known work from A Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces (Shokoku taki meguri), a series of eight woodblock prints created by the artist in 1833–34.
For almost two millennia, a two-way cultural exchange between Asia and Europe has had a profound influence on every art form of both East and West – and the new Reverso continues the dialogue between Eastern and Western artistic traditions that La Grande Maison has embraced throughout its history. Complementing the exquisite tribute to the Asian art form of woodblock printing on the case-back, the dial is anchored in the Western craft traditions of guillochage and Grand Feu enamel.
Celebrating a great Japanese master
In the 19th century, Hokusai was among a handful of Japanese artists who elevated the ancient practice of woodblock printing from popular, “low” art to high art form, thanks to his innovations in subject matter, colour and composition. His ‘Waterfalls’ series – produced when he was in his seventies – is considered by many art historians to be among the finest landscapes ever produced. The best known of the series, ‘Amida Falls’ epitomises the artist’s fascination with the power of cascading water and monumental land forms, which dwarf the human figures enjoying a picnic nearby.
A work of precision and artistry
To capture 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 – 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.
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.
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.
Testament to the exceptional artistry and skill of the artisans working in the Manufacture’s Métiers Rares® (Rare Handcrafts) atelier, the new Reverso Tribute Enamel Hokusai ‘Amida Falls’ epitomises La Grande Maison’s vision of the world of art and culture. It completes a trilogy of Reverso Tribute Enamel timepieces that pay homage to Hokusai – another work from his ‘Waterfalls’ series, Kirifuri Waterfall at Kurokami Mountain in Shimotsuke (Shimotsuke Kurokamiyama Kirifuri-no-taki) in 2021, and a reproduction of his most famous work, The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nama ura) in 2018.