THE MAKERS HAND
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.
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.”