Vacheron Con­stantin’s ded­i­ca­tion to the artis­tic crafts and high com­pli­ca­tions was on dis­play once again at Watches & Won­ders in Hong Kong last Septem­ber, as it de­buted nu­mer­ous ex­clu­sive mod­els at the watch fair, now in its sec­ond year.

Plaza Watch International - - The Makers Hand - WORDS Y-JEAN MUN - DEL SALLE

As the watch­mak­ing métiers d’art have been wit­ness­ing a spec­tac­u­lar come­back in the 21st cen­tury. We have been see­ing in­creas­ingly com­plex and cre­ative dec­o­ra­tions pro­duced by in­house teams, crafts­men’s ate­liers and spe­cial­ist firms, breath­ing life to the story each time­piece tells and bring­ing van­ish­ing an­cient tech­niques back from the brink of ex­tinc­tion after they had lost their ap­peal in the 20th cen­tury. To­day, it’s not only the watch dial that showcases th­ese rare artis­tic tra­di­tions, but also the case, move­ment and bracelet. Cou­pled with a free-think­ing ap­proach and mar­ket de­sire for in­di­vid­u­al­ity, unique­ness and authenticity of gen­uine craft­work, where the num­ber of hours spent in the mak­ing count, va­ri­ety is the name of the game as craft is piled upon craft. At Vacheron Con­stantin, en­grav­ing, gem­set­ting, enam­elling, mar­quetry, guil­loché, lac­quer and stone cloi­sonné are just some of the métiers d’art that have been mas­tered and per­pet­u­ated by the Geneva-based Man­u­fac­ture for almost 260 years, skills that are passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

Christian Sel­moni, Artis­tic Di­rec­tor, says, “The nov­el­ties that we pre­sented at Watches & Won­ders 2014 demon­strate what the watch- mak­ing art of Vacheron Con­stantin is: a unique com­bi­na­tion of tech­ni­cal know-how, clas­sic de­sign, ul­ti­mate crafts­man­ship and our métiers d’art that we master in our in­ter­nal work­shop in Geneva. All the nov­el­ties were de­signed by our in-house team of de­sign­ers. The idea was to present a full range of time­pieces cov­er­ing all as­pects of Vacheron Con­stantin’s watch­mak­ing art: from sim­ple, time- only de­signs to high com­pli­ca­tions, with­out for­get­ting a spot­light on dec­o­ra­tive crafts. The most chal­leng­ing as­pect was to come up with so many nov­el­ties in such dif­fer­ent ar­eas – man­ag­ing di­ver­sity with con­sis­tency.” From con­cep­tion to pro­duc­tion, the Watches & Won­ders col­lec­tion took almost two years to make, with the no­table ex­cep­tion of the Maître Cabinotier Astro­nom­ica, which re­quired a great deal more time. We high­light sev­eral cre­ations that showcase the best of the artis­tic crafts and tech­ni­cal bril­liance, each bear­ing the pres­ti­gious Hall­mark of Geneva on their in- house de­vel­oped and crafted move­ments, a seal that is stamped on haute hor­logerie time­pieces pro­duced in Genevan ter­ri­tory tes­ti­fy­ing to their qual­ity, crafts­man­ship and re­li­a­bil­ity.

Vacheron Con­stantin’s Métiers d’Art col­lec­tion aims to pre­serve the tra­di­tional dec­o­ra­tive arts, com­bin­ing nu­mer­ous tech­niques in a sin­gle watch that re­veal their com­ple­men­tary na­ture and the rel­e­vance of such crafts even cen­turies later. Sel­moni notes, “The Métiers d’Art L’Éloge de la Na­ture mod­els com­bine two dec­o­ra­tive crafts: en­grav­ing and wood mar­quetry. The con­cept was to cre­ate unique time­pieces with metic­u­lous re­al­ism.” By propos­ing an un­usual hand-free read­ing of time through four aper­tures re­veal­ing the hours, min­utes, day and date around the dial cir­cum­fer­ence, the dec­o­ra­tion of the one-of-akind Métiers d’Art L’Éloge de la Na­ture – Horses model is able to take cen­tre stage on the dial cen­tre, thus pro­vid­ing the max­i­mum space pos­si­ble for the ar­ti­sans to ex­press their cre­ativ­ity.

Three re­al­is­tic-look­ing mus­tangs in the wild crafted in pink gold – which took three weeks to hand-en­grave – are set against a wood mar­quetry snow-capped moun­tain scene. The back­drop has been formed from 90 hand-cut pieces of wal­nut, tulip and ch­est­nut wood – rough, stained or lightly burned with var­ied fi­bres and curves that give dif­fer­ent tones to the mo­tif – as­sem­bled to­gether like puz­zle pieces, then pol­ished and var-

nished be­fore be­ing placed on a gold disc serv­ing as the dial base. Sell­ing for €191,200, the time­piece comes in a 40-mm 18-carat pink gold case that houses the Vacheron Con­stantin-made self­wind­ing Cal­i­bre 2460 G4 with 40-hour power re­serve beat­ing at 28,800 vi­bra­tions per hour.

With Watches & Won­ders be­ing held in Hong Kong and as brands adapt their mod­els ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese cul­ture and tastes to reach out to the Asian con­sumer, the Chi­nese mytho­log­i­cal dragon – sym­bol of im­pe­rial power and au­thor­ity in Asia – reared its head once again. Although not part of the brand’s Métiers d’Art col­lec­tion, the en­tirely in-house de­vel­oped and crafted Tra­di­tion­nelle Cal­i­bre 2253 L’Em­preinte du Dragon is still just as im­pres­sive in terms of show­ing off a rare ar­ti­sanal craft and the em­bod­i­ment of what Vacheron Con­stantin does best: tak­ing some­thing or­di­nary and mak­ing it ex­tra­or­di­nary. For the very first time, the art of en­grav­ing ap­pears on a grande com­pli­ca­tion model in the Tra­di­tion­nelle col­lec­tion. Get­ting its name from the all-over drag­on­scale mo­tif en­graved on the case, bezel and lugs, the dec­o­ra­tion was the work of one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced master en­gravers of his gen­er­a­tion, who was named “Meilleur Ou­vrier de France” (a life­long ti­tle of ex­cel­lence that re­wards the per­fec­tion of a master­piece and re­quires months or even years of prepa­ra­tion) in 2011.

The watch was the re­sult of 70 work hours, in­clud­ing em­bel­lish­ing sur­faces of dif­fer­ent sizes and parts that were barely ac­ces­si­ble, and re­quired the use of burins, a com­pass and spe­cially-made in­stru­ments: the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the pat­tern re­quired the master en­graver to in­vent half moon­shaped tools to be able to dec­o­rate cer­tain parts with­out dam­ag­ing the sur­round­ing ar­eas. No mis­takes were al­lowed; the craftsman had to get it right on the first at­tempt. Per­fect­ing the ge­om­e­try of the dragon scales called for in­tense con­cen­tra­tion, a steady hand and a good eye at each stage of the process as the en­grav­ing was per­formed en­tirely by hand on the al­ready as­sem­bled case with­out the guid­ance of a trans­ferred pat­tern or laser trac­ing as ref­er­ence and at a sig­nif­i­cant depth of 4/10ths of a mil­lime­tre.

“What makes the time­piece so spe­cial is the fact that the whole watch case has been fully hand-en­graved with­out any help of pre-en­grav­ing or pre-draw­ing,” ex­plains Sel­moni. “It took more than one week of ‘free­hand’ en­grav­ing to achieve this ex­cep­tional time­piece, which is a great blend of Vacheron Con­stantin’s tal­ents, specif­i­cally the com­bi­na­tion of the art of en­grav­ing mixed with our watch­mak­ing art in a unique, spec­tac­u­lar way.” The over­sized 44-mm case proved to be the per­fect can­vas for this form of in­taglio en­grav­ing, even as the 18-carat pink gold al­loy it is com­posed of was dif­fi­cult to en­grave be­cause of its hard­ness. But that’s not all. Pow­ered by the im­pres­sive in­house de­vel­oped and man­u­fac­tured man­u­al­wind­ing Cal­i­bre 2253 with 14-day power re­serve vis­i­ble through a sap­phire crys­tal case­back, the watch also fea­tures nu­mer­ous com­pli­ca­tions: a tour­bil­lon, per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, equa­tion of time and sun­rise and sun­set in­di­ca­tions of any place on earth cho­sen by the client. A one-off piece re­tail­ing for €507,200, the case­back bears the in­scrip­tion “pièce unique”.

The case, dial and bracelet of the Tra­di­tion­nelle High Jew­ellery time­piece are en­tirely paved with more than 800 baguette-cut di­a­monds for a to­tal weight of ap­prox­i­mately 56.1 carats, and not a sin­gle trace of gold be­neath shows. The 40-mm white gold case fea­tures 102 baguette-cut di­a­monds and a di­a­mond-set crown, while the dial showcases 156 baguette-cut di­a­monds ra­di­at­ing out­wards from the cen­tre set with white gold ap­plied hour mark­ers, and the bracelet is com­posed of 572 baguet­te­cut di­a­monds. The 65- hour power re­serve hand-wound Cal­i­bre 4400 move­ment de­vel­oped and man­u­fac­tured by Vacheron Con­stantin is vis­i­ble through the sap­phire crys­tal case­back, and re­veals ex­quis­ite hand-fin­ish­ing: flat sur­faces are adorned with Côtes de Genève, while sharp edges and flat screw heads are bev­elled then man­u­ally pol­ished. Priced at €939,900, the time­piece also comes in a smaller ver­sion with a 35-mm di­am­e­ter case equipped with the Cal­i­bre 1400.

The Malte Tour­bil­lon Open­worked (€304,400) called for ex­cep­tional mas­tery of me­chan­i­cal horol­ogy and great un­der­stand­ing of light and shadow, as its com­pletely skele­tonised ton­neau-shaped move­ment – the man­ual-wind­ing Cal­i­bre 2790 SQ with 45-hour power re­serve – housed within a plat­inum case with a bezel set with 44 baguette-cut di­a­monds, fea­tures ethe­re­ally light ar­chi­tec­ture based on the shape of a tri­an­gle giv­ing an ef­fect of vol­ume. The move­ment’s con­cep­tion, mod­el­ling and de­sign re­quired over 500 hours to strike the ideal bal­ance be­tween a func­tional tour­bil­lon mech­a­nism and a han­den­graved, trans­par­ent aes­thetic. The el­e­gant and sober Pat­ri­mony Ret­ro­grade Day-Date (€45,400) is all about stylis­tic pu­rity where tech­ni­cal prow­ess is at the ser­vice of de­sign. Equipped with a highly-prac­ti­cal dou­ble com­pli­ca­tion of date and day of the week re­vealed by two ret­ro­grade-type dis­plays, the 1950s-in­spired watch fea­tures a slen­der pink gold case that’s 42.5-mm in di­am­e­ter en­cir­cling a domed, slate-coloured opa­line dial. Its self-wind­ing Cal­i­bre 2460 R31 R7 with 40 hours of power re­serve may be ad­mired through a sap­phire crys­tal case­back.

The pièce de ré­sis­tance, how­ever, was the oneof-a-kind in-house de­signed Maître Cabinotier Astro­nom­ica driven by the 839-com­po­nent man­ual-wind­ing Cal­i­bre 2755-B1 – one of the most com­plex the Man­u­fac­ture has ever made with a 58-hour power re­serve – which gath­ers 15 of the most chal­leng­ing haute hor­logerie com­pli­ca­tions, mainly astro­nom­i­cal – among them a minute re­peater, tour­bil­lon, per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, equa­tion of time, sun­rise and sun­set times, moon phases, sky chart and zo­diac signs – within a white gold case mea­sur­ing just 47 mm in di­am­e­ter and 19.1 mm thick.

Show­cas­ing the skills mas­tered by the Man­u­fac­ture since 1755, it is also the very first rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a new and highly ex­clu­sive range of mod­els cre­ated in the spirit of Geneva’s 18th­cen­tury cab­inotiers (highly spe­cialised watch­mak­ing ar­ti­sans who crafted unique time­pieces com­mis­sioned by pri­vate clients in at­tic-type work­shops) and Vacheron Con­stantin’s own Ate­lier Cab­inotiers es­tab­lished in 2006 by CEO Juan- Car­los Tor­res in the Man­u­fac­ture in Geneva, a haute hor­logerie cus­tomi­sa­tion ser­vice com­bin­ing re­stricted pro­duc­tion, per­son­al­i­sa­tion and watch­mak­ing ex­cel­lence. “The con­cept is to of­fer our clients a be­spoke ser­vice and there­fore the pos­si­bil­ity to cre­ate the ‘watch they dream of’,” elab­o­rates Sel­moni. “There are no lim­its so to speak, and this is why this ser­vice has proven to be so suc­cess­ful! A ded­i­cated team of spe­cial­ists com­posed of de­sign­ers, en­gi­neers, master watch­mak­ers and ar­ti­sans is fully de­voted to ful­fill­ing our clients’ dreams.”

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