In 2023, La Grande Maison presents two new Reverso Tribute timepieces decorated with miniature-painted enamel reproductions of works by Katsushika Hokusai, Japan’s most celebrated 19th-century artist: The Waterfall at Ono on the Kisokaido Road (Kisokaidō Ono no bakufu) and The Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed his Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province (Washū Yoshino Yoshitsune uma arai no taki).

A Great Japanese Master with a Fascination for the Natural World

Innovative in his composition and use of colour, Hokusai (c.1760–1849) was a highly prolific illustrator, printmaker and ukiyo-e artist and, during his lifetime, woodblock printing flourished as a means of reproducing ukiyo-e paintings. As a consequence of Hokusai’s fame, ukiyo-e and woodblock prints became central to forming the West’s perception of Japanese art. His monumental series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, includes The Great Wave off Kanagawa. A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces marked the first time that the theme of falling water was approached in ukiyo-e painting.

Capturing the Beauty and Power of Waterfalls

The Waterfall at Ono portrays a famous site in Nagano Prefecture, on the ancient road that linked the historic capital of Kyoto with the seat of the Tokugawa shoguns in Edo (today’s Tokyo). A small Shinto shrine stands on a rocky promontory next to the falls and, on a bridge below it, a group of travellers stand in awe of the power of the falling water. The composition of the painting amplifies this sense of power, with the water plunging in a straight vertical line between two towering cliffs.

The Waterfall at Yoshino depicts a famous Japanese tale – an episode from the life of General Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Fleeing from his older brother who considered him a traitor for joining forces with the Emperor, Go-Shirakawa, the General paused to rest and bathe his favourite horse amid the mountains of Yoshino. In this powerfully graphic composition, the waterfall’s strong curves express the full force of the water passing through a deep, tree-lined valley. Evoking an image of a giant hand embracing the earth with fingers spread open, it is a poignant exploration of the relationship between nature, man and animals.

Artistry and Precision in Miniature

The miniature paintings on the Reverso case-backs were executed using the Geneva technique, involving at least 14 layers of enamel, each fired at 800°C before the next can be applied, and requiring a total of 80 hours’ meticulous work. As well as the technical feat of reproducing Hokusai’s original colours (including the graduated bokashi effect) in an entirely different medium, the enameller faced the challenge of precisely reproducing every detail with pinpoint accuracy, on a scale approximately one-tenth of the original. 

The simplicity and discreet styling of the watches’ front dials provides a contrast to the intricacy of the miniature paintings. However, this apparent simplicity belies the highly complex craftsmanship behind their creation. The background of both dials has been guilloché by hand: the pattern on the Waterfall at Ono piece is a classical barleycorn design, requiring three to four hours of painstakingly accurate work. For the Waterfall at Yoshino the craftsman applied a lozenge pattern comprising no fewer than 800 lines, each of which required five passages of the lathe (4,000 passages in total).

Embodying La Grande Maison’s vision of the world of art and culture, and showcasing the talents housed in the Métiers Rares™ (Rare Handcrafts) atelier within the Manufacture in the Vallée de Joux, the two new Reverso Tribute Enamel timepieces are a noble addition to the continuing story of the Reverso and its boundless scope as a canvas for creative expression.