Friday, July 4, 2014

Botanical Companions: J.G. Ballard and Chaumet

How did J. G. Ballard and Chaumet  become nature’s companions in this latest post?  Like so many things in life, happenstance. The July 10 issue of The New York Review of Books has a very personal, perceptive article on J.G. Ballard the acclaimed dystopian English novelist and short story writer by Zadie Smith. This led me to pick up and re-read one of my favorite Ballard short stories, The Garden of Time.

At the heart of the story are the time flowers growing below the villa terrace of refined aristocrat, Count Axel.  Ballard describes each time flower as being the size of a goblet, the opaque outer petals enclosing the crystal heart.  Their diamond brilliance contained a thousand faces, the crystal seeming to drain the air of its light and motion.  We learn that as Axel carries each picked time flower back onto the terrace, it began to sparkle and deliquesce, the light trapped within the core at last released.  For Ballard, the power of the time flowers, be they just buds or fully grown is that although they can't stop human time, depending on their maturity when picked, they can drug the events that are happening at that time into a trance. Time momentarily or slightly longer reverses allowing more time for Alex and his wife to enjoy the beauty of the life they have created. In this vein, we remember his statement to his wife: I picked a perfect flower, my dear, a jewel.

Enter my timely happenstance.  In June 2014, I read one of Nazanin Lankarani’s posts on WorldTempus. In it she interviews Thierry Fritsch, Chaumet’s chief executive about the company's 2013 selection of the hydrangea as its floral muse for its new Hortensia haute joaillerie /time piece collection.  Ms. Lankarani quotes Mr. Fritsch as saying “Haute joaillerie, like haute couture, is a laboratory of style. We have already created 24 pieces in the Hortensia Haute Joaillerie collection and will continue to explore this flower’s possibilities.”  

After seeing one of the  images of  the limited edition Hortensia tourbillon time piece, I could not forget it. I wanted to use it in the context of an upcoming post. But how? Zadie Smith’s article on Ballard coupled with my subsequent re-reading of his The Garden of Time gave me that opportunity.

I find Chaumet’s Hortensia watches to be the perfect embodiment of Ballard’s time flowers and their time-arresting power Count Axel was so privileged to have in his garden. What is also intriguing  about this particular edition is that it is limited to 12 pieces.  Towards the end of Ballard's story, Axel is left with a mere dozen flowers, of which his sequential selection will mark the final, unarrested return to time's forward movement.

Chaumet's Hortensia Tourbillon

"Dial composed by applied hydrangea flowers: sculpted and hand-engraved then Grand Feu enameled with silver foils on the center, in blue & purple tones."

Time will tell if Chaumet’s choice of the hortensia will continue to be Ballard’s lasting companion as the iconic time flower. 

Recommended Reading:
The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Changed Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann. New York: Scribner, 2015. 

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