This year’s showing of animal-inspired dials captures the beautiful creatures that co-inhabit this green sphere we call home.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

This year’s showing of animal-inspired dials captures the beautiful creatures that co-inhabit this green sphere we call home.

The minute details of Jaquet Droz’s Petite Heure Minute “Tiger” dial. 

Nature has played constant muse to horology and its decorative arts, with inspirations taking form in an exhaustive range of subjects that span from highly stylised depictions to realistic portrayals on a surface barely 40mm wide. That in itself is a feat of precision and a reflection of the artisanal effort that goes into each timepiece. 


Returning to a subject that has kept audiences rapt since 1914, Cartier flexed its muscles on two new creations in the Ronde Louis Cartier collection that showcase the Maison’s emblematic cat. The Straw and Gold Marquetry watch pairs humble straw (more specifically, 75 different-sized blades of straw in 11 colours) with precious gold (comprising 65 satin-brushed elements in white gold, pink gold and yellow gold) for an intricate bas-relief-like dial that requires 97 hours of work to complete. The panther’s spots and lifelike four-toned eyes are then enamelled to culminate a labour-intensive process, explaining why the 42mm timepiece has been released in a limited edition of just 30 pieces.

The 36mm Enamel Filigree watch continues in that vein with a new spin on an old technique in true Cartier spirit. The three-dimensional dial shows a bejewelled panther prowling amidst bamboo, achieved through the heating of enamel powder before the glass is stretched into shape and fixed to the dial by tiny strands of gold. Putting the finishing touches to the depth perception effect are miniature painting for the sky and domed champlevé enamel for the background. 


Another brand that’s known to pay regular homage to the world’s biggest cats is Jaquet Droz and for 2020, the watchmaker turned its eyes to Asia’s endangered tiger. Done in a similar manner to the Petite Heure Minute “Lion” of 2018, this year’s 43mm Petite Heure Minute “Tiger” captures the wild beauty of the feline with two editions in red gold and white gold, limited to 28 pieces each. The revered art of miniature painting is presented on a black or ivory Grand Feu enamel dial, with the tiger’s frontal gaze made all the more captivating through an extremely detailed, lifelike rendering that uses brush bristles a strand of hair thin. From the individual strands of its lush, silky fur, achieved through the use of a microscope, to the cat’s irises and pupils that seem to follow you in any direction, the artwork doesn’t cease to amaze despite Jaquet Droz’s reputation for a mastery of artisanal decorative techniques.

My Reading Room

From top: Pink gold Les Cabinotiers “The Singing Birds” – Hummingbird watch, Vacheron Constantin.

White gold and multi-gem Dior Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles 21 watch, Dior.

The actual dial of Cartier’s Ronde Louis Cartier Straw and Gold Marquetry watch against its life-size illustration.

A closer look at the champlevé enamelling technique of Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers “The Singing Birds” timepiece.

White gold and diamond Ronde Louis Cartier Enamel Filigree watch, Cartier.

The dial progress of Hermès’ Arceau Into the Canadian Wild – Snowy Owl watch.

White gold Petite Heure Minute “Tiger” watch, Jaquet Droz.

White gold and diamond ArceauInto the Canadian Wild – Polar Bear watch, Hermès


Over at Hermès, it’s to the north we venture as the French maison celebrates the unique and wonderful biodiversity of the Canadian landscape. Aptly named Into the Canadian Wild, the Arceau watches feature designs that originate from a 2017 silk scarf designed by British artist Alice Shirley. A polar bear and her cub stand on an ice cliff overlooking a pod of orcas swimming by under a starry night sky. On the other, a snowy owl spreads its wings in silent flight as the moon of the cleverly placed moon phase indicator looks on at the sky adorned with Northern Lights. The aventurine dials of both watches take over a week of painstaking miniature painting work to complete, as the artist builds the gentle contours of its art through layers of paint that each requires a firing in the kiln before the next is undertaken. Available in a limited series of 24, the 38mm watches exude a wintry allure that is enhanced through a ring of 82 diamonds on the bezel for just the right amount of sparkle to frame its artistry.


Vacheron Constantin eschews predators for songbirds and continues the musical momentum of last year’s Les Cabinotiers “La Musique du Temps” collection of chiming timepieces with the Les Cabinotiers “The Singing Birds”, comprising four pièce unique watches featuring a hummingbird, a blue jay, a blue tit and a robin. Each sports a two-tiered dial with an off-centre time display that sets the stage for the revered techniques used. The vibrancy of the birds is achieved through champlevé enamelling (which requires successive firings in the kiln to fix the colours in place), using 10 hues to bring their graduating feathers to life. Then there’s the hand guilloché of the applied minutes and wandering hours disc that is then tinted to bring out its intricate basket-weave pattern. The results are a collector’s set for posterity. 


If it’s a watch cloaked in precious gems you’re after, then look to Dior’s newest additions to its Grand Soir Reine des Abeilles collection, where the humble bumblebee takes centre stage in a nod to the gardens Monsieur Dior loved so much. Showcased on a bed of diamonds, each of the critters is dressed up with gem-setting finesse in a precious trove of multi-shaped coloured stones—emeralds, rubies, opals, amethyst sapphires and tsavorite garnets, among others (bird feathers are also used). Each of the eight couture-like designs is a one-of-a-kind creation, ensuring absolute exclusivity. 

Capturing the magnificence of earth’s creatures down to the minutest details, 2020’s menagerie of animal-inspired metier d’art dials enthrals with beauty made real through innovative and masterful craftsmanship. It’s Mother Nature in all her splendour, immortalised in an exquisite wrist-sized canvas to be cherished for decades to come; and a piece of wilderness to carry along with you, indoors or out.