André Martinez produces exceptional timepieces

Every year, the Atelier André Martinez produces exceptional timepieces for the luxury watchmaking industry.

It is in the heart of a family home, located on the outskirts of Le Locle, that these creations come to life. A true work of art, each piece transforms time into an exceptional moment.

From the outside, there is nothing to suggest that this family home is a place where design meets perfection. Located at 10 Rue des Sorbiers in Le Locle, the atelier houses six artisans – two of whom are in training – who carry out work of high quality and great precision. Whether one-of-a-kind or in extremely limited series, 99% of the creations that pass through their hands are destined for the watch industry. Each year, around 400 units leave the workshop, each requiring between ten and a hundred hours to complete.

The flagship technique is miniature painting with synthetic lacquer. The work can be summed up in three words: binoculars, brushes and lacquer. Not to mention a healthy dose of patience, meticulousness, self-control and, above all, a professional conscience that incites exponents of these skills to practice perseverance at all times. Whether a complete dial or some of its components, each watch is made with the same attention to detail.

The lacquer and cold enamel used meet NIHS standards and offer excellent resistance to UV exposure, tearing, acids and alkalis. The painted or lacquered patterns are dried by firing at approximately 90°C, making it possible to work on all substrates such as gold, mother-of-pearl, hard stone or wood. The extremely high adhesion and flexibility of the products used to create these works enable painting on very thin bases without any risk of breakage or damage due to potential twisting or assembly.

At the head of the atelier is André Martinez. This deeply passionate individual makes each piece with the same attention to detail that drives him to never give up. This is what enables him to produce work meeting the most demanding requirements.

“When customers expect something from you, it makes the work exciting. Our greatest satisfaction is when the items ordered are not returned. For example, when you make a hundred dials for a major brand, and none of them come back, we say we did a good job”.

Twenty-five years ago, he was the first artisan in Switzerland to offer miniature painting on mother-of-pearl. It all started with the question: What if the big names in watchmaking were to like this technique? The story is simple. With his first few creations in his pocket, he stopped in front of a well-known boutique window to admire the models on display. A member of the boutique staff took a short break at his side, leading to a first discussion during which the mother-of-pearl creations worked their appealing and enchanting magic. A first collaboration with the brand – none other than Bovet 1822 – was to lead to a reputation acknowledged by all the key players in modern-day Haute Horlogerie.

“In order to bring the first projects to life and develop the timepieces, watch Maisons sometimes needed 10 to 20 units. This led me to hire people to meet the orders.” A true pioneer of this technique, he thus trained a dozen or so people whom he met thanks to the time-honoured word-of-mouth method.

Settled in his own home, André Martinez also passed on this passion for the infinitely small to his wife 11 years ago. Seeing him at work every day, she wanted to try lacquering and ended up leaving her job as a sommelier to devote herself entirely to the atelier. “It was a revelation. She got the hang of things quite easily and soon began producing doing better lacquering than myself.”

From extremely understated watches to highly original ones, along with Haute Joaillerie models, each creation is crafted to the same high standards. The artisans in the workshop have seen many noteworthy models pass through their hands that have made their mark in different ways, either by the difficulty of the design to be reproduced, or by the emotions that the object embodied. In any case, each piece is fascinating to craft because it meets the expectations of a given customer.

“It is up to us to apply ourselves to perfectly accomplishing each task with which we are entrusted Everything is handmade and everything emerging from our ateliers must be of impeccable quality. Some projects touch us in a special way, such as of children, or likenesses of people who have passed away. Sometimes, there are a lot of emotions, which makes it all the more difficult”, says André Martinez.

Nothing leaves the workshop without being checked multiple times; everything is approved or corrected if necessary by Martinez himself. This guarantees not only optimal quality but also consistency, from the first to the last piece.

Beyond borders
Several times a year, André Martinez is invited by client brands to showcase his art: “The end customer doesn’t always realise how much time it takes to create a miniature painting. Through practical workshops organised around the world in close collaboration with watchmaking Maisons, customers enjoy the opportunity to follow the evolution of a dial, enabling them to appreciate the work at its true value. We need to show that everything is really done by hand using a brush. During my travels, I am never without my little suitcase, which contains the main elements involved in my work (brushes, a basic colour kit and several dials). Perpetuating the skill is important, but this international exposure is also a means of pushing limits, of going ever further, remaining the best and constantly improving. One can never afford to stagnate in this profession; we have to keep moving ahead, innovating and never resting on our laurels.”

In a nutshell
A jeweller, gemsetter and apprenticeship master, André Martinez studied at the School of Applied Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Once his training was complete, he entered the field of high-end watches, which offered him extensive possibilities in terms of creatively expressing his artistic passions. A major dial maker in the region of La Chaux-de-Fonds then offered him the opportunity to create a jewellery department, a challenge that André Martinez took up successfully, enabling it to achieve number one ranking in Switzerland within just 10 years. At that point his innate passion for artistic design was once again sparked and in 1996 – building on extensive experience in the field of dials – he launched into miniature artistic painting, initially on mother-of-pearl and which met with swift success.

January 09, 2020