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Vacheron Constantin - Conquering the skies

Vacheron Constantin Conquering the skies

The five Métiers d’Art les Aérostiers watches celebrate the history of some of the most awe-inspiring machines ever invented.

Vacheron Constantin often chooses important historical landmarks as the subjects of its Métiers d’Art watches. They have included some of the great geographical and astronomical discoveries, like the Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Copernicus Celestial Spheres watches, and decorative or representational art, such as the Florilèges pieces based on 18th-century botanical illustrations, or the Fabuleux Ornements. It is extremely rare to see watchmakers portraying technical and man-made objects in artistically-inspired timepieces. Perhaps this is due to the perception that there could be little aesthetic or poetic interest in representing a machine on a watch dial through the use of artistic and artisanal techniques. Could we imagine a steam train, a 19th-century motor car, or one of the first gliders on an artistic crafts watch?

But what better subject could a watchmaker have chosen to portray within the circular face of a watch than a hot air balloon? It is one of mankind’s greatest inventions, embodying the ultimate dream that Leonardo da Vinci never stopped chasing – to fly. A balloon rising into the sky is a breathtaking sight, and the Métiers d’Art les Aérostiers watches are a worthy tribute to this majestic spectacle.

These five new timepieces are precisely anchored to specific historical dates: they commemorate five recorded flights by the very first hot air balloons in history. The gold balloons decorating the dials are faithful reproductions of these “aerostatic globes”, based on drawings and etchings from the time. The Métiers d’Art les Aérostiers Versailles 1783, in shades of brown, commemorates the historic date of 19 September 1783, the date of the very first aerostatic flight conducted by the Montgolfier brothers. However, this airship does not represent the first human flight; as a precautionary measure, a rooster, a duck and a sheep – all visible on the watch – were sent with it into the air.

A la conquête du ciel

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Versailles 1783 © Vacheron Constantin

The blue Paris 1783 timepiece commemorates the first manned aerostat flight, on 21 November 1783, again on the initiative of the Montgolfier brothers. The white and rose gold balloon is richly carved, and the nacelle contains the first two aeronauts.

A la conquête du ciel

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Paris 1783 © Vacheron Constantin

On 2 March 1784, Jean-Pierre Blanchard designed a hydrogen balloon equipped with a system of wings. This vehicle is depicted on the green Paris 1784 model.

A la conquête du ciel

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Paris 1784 © Vacheron Constantin

In Bordeaux on 16 June 1784, three passengers ascended in a balloon decorated with various fabrics and embellishments, illustrating the myth of Zephyr and the Titans. This is the balloon portrayed on the red Bordeaux 1784.

A la conquête du ciel

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Bordeaux 1784 © Vacheron Constantin

Finally, in the Bagnols 1785 watch, Vacheron Constantin pays tribute to Jean-Baptiste Madier’s aerostat, in shades of blue.

A la conquête du ciel

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Bagnols 1785 © Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin has chosen engraving and ramolayage to reproduce the volume of the balloons. Their colours are conveyed by the interplay of different finishes and textures of gold, along with plique-à-jour enamelling to convey the transparency of the sky. The technique of ramolayage involves removing tiny pieces of material to create a relief, which enables the subject to be very precisely sculpted. Each balloon takes three weeks to complete. The traditional technique of plique-à-jour enamelling, first used in the 4th and 5th centuries BC in the Byzantine empire, offers a transparency that cloisonné and champlevé can’t match, by depositing the enamel inside a hollow lattice. Light is able to pass through the enamel, creating a stained glass window effect.

Conquering the skies

Plique-à-jour enamelling © Vacheron Constantin

Used here for the first time by Vacheron Constantin, the plique-à-jour enamelling provides a view through to the intricate workings of the 2460 G4/1 calibre beneath the dial. This automatic movement is often found in the manufacture’s more artistic pieces because of the absence of hands, which leaves the dial unencumbered. The (jumping) hours and minutes, days of the week and dragging date are displayed in small windows that don’t disturb the view.

A la conquête du ciel

Calibre 2460 G4/1 © Vacheron Constantin

The five Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers watches bear the Geneva Hallmark, and are fitted with an alligator bracelet to match the dial. Just five of each will be produced.

The brand

An exploration of the history of Vacheron Constantin is a voyage of discovery, revealing the excellence of age-old watchmaking. Each timepiece is the result of the creative inspiration of the watchmaker or craftsman, dedicating their knowhow to the birth of outstanding watches. The Manufacture also works within a social and environmental code of ethics, and has had Responsible Jewellery Council certification since 2012.

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