Bringing wood marquetry to an art form

Bastien Chevalier

Based in a small workshop in the North of Vaud, Bastien Chevalier is one of a handful of artisans who master the art of wood marquetry. Revealing the beauty of the infinitely small, his creations stem from meticulous and carefully orchestrated combinations. We take a moment to meet the maestro.

Contemporary paintings, sculptures or even posters of finished dials adorn every corner of the workshop located in Sainte-Croix. The creative atmosphere that emerges is truly far removed from the image one might have of wood marquetry. A cutting saw, a drill, a scalpel, a rapidograph and some tape: above and beyond these simple tools, it is a blend of patience, accuracy, high demands and passion that give life to the models crafted here.

Bastien Chevalier works solo and demonstrates his mastery of this art through an array of extremely refined creations. Although he has been self-employed for 14 years, he has only been making timepieces for a few years.

“The first time, Vacheron Constantin ap-proached me because another craftsman in the region, a famous automaton manufacturer, had mentioned my work”, said the Sainte-Croix resident. Whether in small series or as unique pieces for collectors, each creation requires extreme mastery of technique and materials, but above all unfailing patience and an obsessive concern for perfection.

Various projects for the University of Art and Design Lasuanne ECAL, along with botanical sculptures, music boxes for Reuge and watch cases for Vianney Halter: Bastien Chevalier is constantly exploring the creative universe offered by wood marquetry. All his creations require a degree of meticulous care possessed by only a handful of artisans.

Nonetheless, the timepieces entrusted to him by Maisons such as Vacheron Constantin or Parmigiani Fleurier have enabled him to raise his art to an even more demanding level, continually pushing limits in terms of the precision, meticulousness and quality of the final result. “It is achievements such as these that enable me to excel.”

Creative and meticulous
From oak to teak to ebony, Chevalier works with all kinds of wood taking the form of thin sheets ranging from 0.5 to 0.8mm thick. Although some species are more difficult to handle than others, the final visual appearance is always the priority when choosing the material.

Everything starts with a commission, a project in the form of a sketch (enlarged scale). With the help of a rapidograph, a drawing is made on tracing paper with extreme technical precision (0.13mm). The outline of each piece composing the marquetry is thus created.

Drawn at a 1:1 scale, the sketch on paper truly reveals the tiny size of the pieces. Scalpel in hand, the craftsman meticulously cuts each of them, then affixes them to the different wooden floors. As the artisan explained: “For the eye of the Panda – a model crafted for Vacheron Constantin – even by making the tracing three times larger than the actual size, it was very difficult to discern the outline of each piece. At 1:1 scale, an eye measures 1 x 1.5 mm and comprises seven fragments! It took me two months of work – of which one was devoted to cutting alone – to complete one of these dials.”

In order to preserve and maintain the fibre, each sheet of wood is glued on newspaper. The choice of wood is then made according to the original design. “It is essential to anticipate the final rendering and to visualise the completed marquetry right from the start. Once varnished, the colour is more intense, which means it is important to know the wood species and how they react.”

The pieces are sawn with extremely meticulous care. Using a scalpel, Bastien then assembles the elements, like a puzzle, with simple automotive tape. A bit of bone glue and kraft paper is used to assemble the marquetry, which then reaches its peak after the final sanding and varnishing.

True art
“There are no numerically controlled machines here. The work is profoundly manual. If we want seamless marquetry, we should logically cut each piece on half the outline of the drawing. In practice however, this principle must be adapted and a personal feel for the craft plays an essential role. Each wood evolves differently according to its grain. Over time, it naturally develops a patina. On the other hand, those that are vat-dyed change very little and will remain faithful to the original colours.”

The Mbch brand
Along with a close friend, Bastien Chevalier founded the brand Mbch (Montres Bastien Chevalier) in 2019. These two watchmaking enthusiasts have made the choice to produce only a handful of pieces per year and to use only the traditional “word of mouth” to spread the news about their creations. These unique 100% Swiss hand-crafted models are housed in a stainless steel case with particularly elaborate lugs. The refined dial becomes a true field of free expression for the artisan. The hand-wound movement powering them can be admired through the transparent caseback.

Bastien Chevalier in a nutshell
Having earned his Federal Certificate of Competence (CFC) as a cabinetmaker, Bastien Chevalier perfected his marquetry skills with Jérôme Boutteçon, former winner of the famous Meilleur ouvrier de France competition. The latter taught him this art for nearly six years.

In 2003, Bastien Chevalier decided to set up his own marquetry workshop where he created different pictures and worked on commissions for clients such as François Junod, Vianney Halter and Reuge.

Born with the graffiti years, this artist expre-sses a highly contemporary style that is radically different from the common vision of marquetry with its Belle Epoque vibe. His work has been acknowledged by international awards (including Wallpaper magazine’s “Best Oddity” award for the marquetry on a Reuge music box). He has also participated in various exhibitions including the “Talents Rares” event organised in 2020 at the Arcades des Arts in Geneva by the Michelangelo Foundation and the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). This artistic exhibition presented 15 European artisans occupying a unique place in the world of excellent craftsmanship skills.

August 26, 2021