Any visitor to the 2012 edition of Sihh likely stood for a long while Admiring le dragon et la perle du savoir (the dragon and the Pearl of wisdom) at parmigiani’s booth, an incredible automaton Making a full turn around its own axis once an hour and featuring A dragon made of hand-chiseled polished silver and decorated With 585 gold scales that are set with jadeite jade. Aldrick Vassal
The fascinating gemstone, seen here in natural shades ranging from imperial green (emerald-like), light green, white, yellow and orange to brown-red, is revered in Asia. Imperial jadeite jade is a translucent, semi-opaque, semi-precious stone that comes from Burma. For Aldrick Vassal, gemologist at Swiss Clarity & Cut, working on this piece was an exciting experience. “Undertaking and succeeding in this challenge and working on such an exceptional piece with material as sensitive and complex as jade was emotional,” he explains. “It was my first time working with jade on such an important piece, and it’s always special to be making first steps in a new field like this.”
Vassal studied in the mecca of gemstones, Antwerp, Belgium, and has worked at French diamond dealer and cutter companies such as Diamondine and Diamazur Eurl. He was also in charge of gem quality control at Dress Your Body (DYB), a Swatch Group subsidiary that sources, designs, manufactures and distributes objects—including timepieces—set with precious stones. This brought the Frenchman to Switzerland— and to the watch industry. “The watch industry is as much a passion as it is a challenge to me, and its level of expertise and complexity is fascinating.”
Swiss Clarity & Cut was formed in 2005 near Geneva. The company often works with watch brands on jeweled timepieces, though rarely are they as large and complicated in structure as Parmigiani’s dragon. “We are in perfect synchronization with the needs of a watchmaker’s quality,” Vassal explains. “My work involves very intense moments and beyond the realization of the product or piece, it implies a close contact with the customer. Besides, watchmaking is like a magnet to me and to live in Switzerland allows me to be geographically close to all the interests at play, which is crucial in my line of work. There is a lot of listening involved in my daily work; to hear and to precisely understand the customers’ needs is very important.”
Jade carving is an old technique made possible by the relative solidity of the stone: 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs scale, it is almost as hard as steel, so it can be manipulated in complex ways. Today, jade is worked using different rotary tools covered with diamond powder of various densities. This was once achieved using carborundum sand and a soft tool. Polishing is accomplished using felt grindstones that combine various oils and diamond powder densities.
“This was an intense experience,” adds Sébastien Rousseau, Parmigiani’s young head of development. He helped select the precious, natural and untreated jadeite for the monumental dragon, some of which was sourced from an unusual place. “Since the scales on the dragon’s head were the most important part of the masterpiece,” Vassal continues, “we actually dealt with a private collector who agreed to sell us an extremely valuable piece of his private collection. Such [quality of] natural jade is very hard to find.”