Dark Art: Pierre Soulages’ 2019 work Celebrating his 100th Birthday Inspires a Watch in Stunning Black - Lookbook

Baume & Mercier’s Hampton “Hommage à Pierre Soulages” pays tribute to the abstractionist’s Outrenoir.

French abstractionist Pierre Soulages is the point of inspiration for a recently unveiled timepiece by Baume & Mercier.

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Called the Hampton “Hommage à Pierre Soulages,” the watch is inspired particularly by the artist’s series called Outrenoir, and its representation of the color black.  

Pierre Soulages at his atelier in 1999 / Photo courtesy of Musée Soulages

In January 1979, 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 the artist in 2007.

Passage of time

One work in particular guided the experiment, “Peinture” (2019). This work, which the Soulages couple donated to Musée Soulages in 2020, celebrates the painter’s 100th birthday, a testimony to his vitality and inspiration.

The work guides the light through a play of overlapped panels of slanted streaks which sweep from one side of the composition to the other. This action painting technique that Soulages developed cuts into the black acrylic material to produce a variety of matte-and-shine effects. The light released by the painting is essential, in that it may also bear the full spectrum of colors.

Reflecting the spirit and content of this work is the challenge. To this effect, 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.

When Soulages talks about his engravings, and particularly his etchings, he speaks of capturing time in space. A painter’s time is an action held up to view, a single sweeping stroke. To create a timeless work is the goal of both painter and watchmaker.

The architectural design of Musée Soulages won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2017

Time has no hold on such a creation, whether it be a timepiece or painting; it stands the test of time without losing its beauty, strength and force of attraction. Both artist and watchmaker share the same desire to create a timeless piece.

Passion for art

This artistic and watchmaking commonality is natural for the House, which has had ties with the art world from its beginnings.

As early as 1920, Paul Mercier’s personality as an art lover shaped the sensibility of all the collections to follow. When he partnered with William Baume to found maison in 1920, he infused the brand with his appreciation for art and passed along his great creativity to its designs.

He invited Baume and his family to vacation on the French Riviera during the summer of 1922. His wife was a native of Nice, and his friends included a great number of painters and writers from the School of Nice. These connections shaped his aesthetic sense and his relationship with art, particularly painting. 

From then on, all his watch collections were designed with an artistic sense in terms of shapes, volumes, and proportions. In fact, that creativity was recognized very early on, at the prestigious watch and jewelry competition La Rose d’Or from Baden-Baden to Düsseldorf, in 1972 and 1973.

The interaction between watchmaking and design which is deeply ingrained in the Baume & Mercier genes naturally led it to make this special connection with the work of Pierre Soulages, with both enthusiasm and humility.

Baume & Mercier Hampton “Hommage à Pierre Soulages”

Baume & Mercier chose the Hampton model for its transposition of an Outrenoir work into a timepiece. The model asserts a rectangular dial and case mimicking the proportions of a canvas.

Since its launch in 1994, the Hampton’s design was inherited from one of the House’s models dating from the 1960s that was in turn inspired by the Art Deco of the 1920s. It takes the Greek letter Phi, a reference to the golden ratio, as its emblem.

Even the case in which the watch is presented pays tribute to the contemporary architecture of Musée Soulages. The structure was 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. Here, again, is the question of time and the patina that it creates.

The timepiece will be accompanied by a leaflet telling details of the collaboration and a VIP pass for two for the Musée Soulages in Rodez. A book on the work of Soulages will also be sent to each owner of the timepiece.

From painting to watchmaking

The watch represents several technological feats for the maison, particularly with shrinking the dial, which was also brass machined with a laser.

Candia stone is used to create a diffuse matte effect, and an electroplating process is then applied to coat it with color through electrolysis to a thickness of 0.2 microns. One last coat of sheer, semi-matte protective lacquer to a thickness of 10 microns, and the piece is finished: black yet wreathed in light, filled with masterful contrasts.

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 Soulages in order to 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) to a thickness of 2 microns, providing a hardness of 6,000 Vickers.

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. The self-winding mechanical Swiss caliber (ETA 2892) features a black oscillating weight adorned with a “Côtes de Genève” that can be seen through the transparent watch back, which bears the watch’s name.

“Baume & Mercier” appears as a metallic engraving on the underside of the domed sapphire crystal. Both sides of the crystal feature an anti-glare treatment to ensure that the image of the painting remains perfectly intact.

“Peinture” (2019)

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.

The “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 from February 9th on baume-et-mercier.com.

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