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At Saint-Louis, the millefiori paperweight process begins by a ball-maker dipping a punty (metal rod or blowpipe) into the mouth of a glass-melting furnace known as a “pot furnace”, each containing a color of crystal or enamel, who then twirls the molten material to form a bubble-free mass called a “gob”.

As the Hermès group is a fount of traditional artisanal knowledge in numerous fields from leather-working and silk-screening to silversmithing, this time its watchmaking arm decided to turn to Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis (Saint-Louis Royal Crystal-Works), a 100 per cent Hermès-owned affiliate company based in Lorraine in northeastern France, to help it create a series of wristwatches and pocket watches embellished with unconventional crystal dials and covers inspired by 19th-century paperweights – a signature Saint-Louis product. Founded in 1586, the manufacture is the only French crystal-maker still capable of creating spherical paperweights using a wide range of skills. Interested in approaching ancient craft techniques from an innovative angle, La Montre Hermès took an artistic métier mastered by the crystal-works, transposed it onto a very thin layer and miniaturized it to fit onto a watch for the creation of its new Arceau Millefiori collection.

Named “millefiori” (Italian for “a thousand flowers”) as it gives the illusion of a real bed of flowers, the glass technique is believed to have been invented by the Romans and given a new lease of life after the Renaissance by Murano glassmakers. In 1845, while it was developing double and triple overlay crystal, Saint-Louis revived millefiori and created its first paperweight balls, which resemble dreamlike magic gardens trapped in a drop of crystal. The spherical paperweights crafted using the traditional millefiori technique became a Saint-Louis specialty, but quickly lost favor after some 15 years and the glassmaking art disappeared along with it, before making a comeback in1953, when the American collector Paul Jokelson commissioned a sulphide model to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Since then, Saint-Louis has presented new limited editions of the precious items annually, with not more than 300 pieces produced in total every year currently, depicting motifs ranging from flowers, fruits and bouquets to animals, birds and butterflies. Over the years, some of the finest collections of millefiori paperweights have been built up by well-known personalities like Jeanne Lanvin, King Farouk of Egypt and Colette, and each Saint-Louis paperweight today is the embodiment of ancestral manufacturing methods that the crystal-works re-mastered after a 100-year hiatus.

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