Every year, Geneva hosts the world’s most prestigious, by-invitation-only watch exhibition, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). At the recent show, 17 top luxury brands showed off their newest timepieces for the US market this spring and summer, and Cartier, once again, demonstrated its penchant for showmanship. Reviving an ancient Etruscan form of metal work, Cartier unveiled something truly special that has Miami’s watch aficionados buzzing.

Like the jaw-dropping mosaic floors found in ancient Italian palazzos, the Cartier d’Art Rotonde de Cartier Panther timepiece is the grand sum of its elaborate parts. Turning to history for inspiration, and returning to its roots as a passionate jeweler, Cartier created the watch’s gold dial using the ancient technique of granulation. “Very few contemporary jewelers are able to replicate the delicacy, accuracy, and detail of fine granulation,” says Hank Siegel, president and CEO of Hamilton Jewelers in Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, who saw the watch at its unveiling at SIHH. “Small balls of gold are crafted by heating them over a flame at a precise temperature.” The granules are then assembled into place and fused with a gold plate to produce a motif, in this case a ferocious and beautiful panther—a Florida state icon.

The age-old decorative technique is believed to have originated with the Etruscans, living in the area around what is now Tuscany in the third millennium BC. This highly sophisticated art form reached its peak in the first millennium, when the Romans and their Mediterranean neighbors created famous objects and pieces of jewelry. Centuries later and spurred by early archeological digs in these areas, the craft would make its way into Italian jewelry and other works of art—but never a watch dial, until now.

For Cartier, the challenge was to reinterpret this technique in miniature form. To create the final dial, Cartier first starts with a gold dial plate and finely hand-carves or etches the motif (in this case a panther) into the metal in relief format. Tiny 22k gold beads are then painstakingly placed individually with small tweezers into the relief engravings to form the panther’s face. The entire dial is repeatedly subjected to heating via a hand-held burner after every few beads have been placed to meld them to the dial, achieving a burnishing effect that resembles aged metal. The resulting texture, depth, and allure are breathtaking.

Each Cartier d’Art Rotonde de Cartier Panther watch is set with approximately 3,800 beads and takes two months to complete. In true Cartier style, beauty isn’t enough; the piece also houses a top mechanical caliber. The 42mm Rotonde case, crafted in 18k yellow gold, contains the Manufacture mechanical caliber 9601 MC with manual winding. It is fitted with a sapphire caseback for viewing the movement. The case itself is meticulously set with 306 brilliant-cut diamonds weighing 3.63 carats. Due to the complexity of the dial, a mere 20 pieces will ever be made, each retailing for $260,000.

“I have seen my share of beautifully crafted and hand-worked dials in my 30-year career, and the Rotonde de Cartier with the panther is truly exceptional,” Hamilton Jewelers’ Siegel says. “This is a miniature piece of art.”

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