Vacheron Constantin Les Métiers d’Art for Infinite Horizons
Discover a retrospective of the last three decades with Christian Selmoni, Director of Style and Heritage at Vacheron Constantin.
Some journeys are defined by the number of kilometres travelled, whereas others are motionless, occurring on a surface as small as the diameter of a coin. In Vacheron Constantin's workshops, where experienced craftsmen - engravers, guilloché artists, enamellers, and gem setters - work side by side, the culture of travel does not require the traveller to cross large spaces. Historical journeys, human and artistic odysseys, and exciting escapades across the world and its cultures, enhance the art of watchmaking on the dials and cases of the brand’s Métiers d'Art collections.
The Manufacture has cultivated these ancestral skills throughout its history. “From the 18th century onwards, Vacheron Constantin has followed two parallel paths, accompanying the art of watchmaking with a strong artistic expression,” observes Christian Selmoni, Director of Style and Heritage at Vacheron Constantin. “The Métiers d’Art such as guilloché, enamelling, gem-setting, and engraving developed considerably in the first half of the 19th century. Although interest in these watches waned in the 1970s and they were almost forgotten entirely in the decade that followed.”
It wasn’t until the revival of traditional watchmaking in the early 1990s that we started to see a gradual return of Métiers d’Art timepieces to the forefront of the watchmaking scene. This interest increased from the 2000s onwards and over the last thirty years, we have seen the most impressive creations that have made their mark on the artistic heritage of the Maison.
Mercator © Vacheron Constantin
1994-1996: from Mercator to Audubon
“In the 1990s, we produced a few pocket watches with miniature enamel dials, mainly to keep these crafts alive, but the production of these pieces was very limited," says Selmoni. In 1994, the Métiers d’Art began to make their way onto the wrist, as illustrated by the Mercator watch, whose enamel dial featured a miniaturized version of the maps of the different hemispheres drawn by the famous 16th century Flemish mathematician and geographer. In 1996, a limited series with champlevé enamel dials featured drawings by naturalist Jean-Jacques Audubon. However beautiful, this classic contribution to the renaissance of fine craftsmanship in contemporary watchmaking does not yet represent the uniqueness of the aesthetic vocabulary that distinguishes Vacheron Constantin today.
Audubon © Vacheron Constantin
2007: Métiers d’Art Les Masques
In 2007, the Métiers d'Art Les Masques collection of unique pieces marked a turning point. “Until this time, the Métiers d’Art were illustrating a more traditional mode of expression,” recalls Selmoni. “They echoed the decorations and ideas of the past, which was a good response to the demand of collectors. With Les Masques, however, we gave ourselves a new space for creative freedom where we could break existing codes.” In collaboration with the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, which has a fabulous collection of ancient and tribal art, Vacheron Constantin reproduced a different tribal mask on the dial of each watch with gold engraving combined with multiple surface treatments, such as oxidations, patinas, and even miniature painting. These strikingly realistic miniature masks were each adorned with texts by the poet Michel Butor, who was contacted by the brand to collaborate on the project.
Métiers d'Art Les Masques © Vacheron Constantin
2010: Métiers d’Art Chagall and l’Opéra de Paris
In the wake of the success of Les Masques, Vacheron Constantin continued to assert its style in 2010 with the Métiers d'art Chagall and l'Opéra de Paris watch. The centrepiece of a series of 15 unique pieces, it featured an enamelled reproduction by Anita Porchet of the ceiling of the Opéra Garnier painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. It was a 200m2 masterpiece miniaturized onto a 31.5mm dial! “When we discovered the piece, the work was so incredible that we decided to keep it for our private collection,” recalls Selmoni.
Métiers d'Art Chagall et l'Opéra de Paris © Vacheron Constantin
2012: Métiers d’Art Les Univers Infinis
Inspired by the work of Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, Vacheron Constantin's designers created the Métiers d'Art Les Univers Infinis series, which combined all of the craftsmanship they had mastered in-house. “This watch is particularly surprising,” explains Selmoni. “One motif creates another and repeats itself ad infinitum, between the angels, we can see demons. This model shows incredible creativity and is a tour de force of craftsmanship. The engraver first crafted the demons in the background of the gold dial and then the enameller applied a layer of translucent champlevé enamel. The angels were then crafted by the guilloché artist who removed the equivalent of a human hair by using his rose-engine machine to create these figurative motifs. Here, this very old know-how is expressed in a particularly contemporary way.”
Métiers d'Art Les Univers Infinis © Vacheron Constantin
2016: Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières
Grand Feu champlevé enamel is a skill that has been passed down within the Manufacture since its founding in 1755. In 2016, Vacheron Constantin explored a new path by inviting Japanese artist Yoko Imai to combine her art with that of the enamelling artisan. “Yoko deposited up to 50,000 grains of gold, platinum, and diamond chips, one by one, onto the dials to represent the night skies of cities like Paris or New York.” The result of these two combined techniques offers a striking play of chiaroscuro. “This series is also a testament to our commitment to continue working with independent artists and craftsmen,” adds Selmoni. “It is a way to support them and keep their skills alive.”
Métiers d'Art Villes Lumières © Vacheron Constantin
2018: Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers
In the year 2018, Vacheron Constantin continued its journey to the heart of the Métiers d’Art. This time, it was aboard five engraved and micro-sculpted gold hot-air balloons on a translucent background of plique-à-jour enamel that the Manufacture took collectors to new horizons. This faithful miniature reproduction of the historical drawings of five flights made in France between 1783 and 1785 is a true feat of precision. “The effect of volume is incredible,” enthuses Selmoni.
Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers © Vacheron Constantin
2021: Métiers d’Art Hommage aux Grands Explorateurs
“In 2004, and again in 2008, we produced two initial series that celebrated the adventurous spirit of Magellan, Zheng He, Christopher Columbus, and Marco Polo,” recalls Selmoni. In 2021, the adventure continued with three limited editions of 10 pieces that paid tribute to the Portuguese navigators Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco de Gama, and Pedro Alvares Cabral. Crafted in Grand Feu enamel, each of the three dials represented parts of a 1519 map found in the Miller Atlas.
Métiers d'Art Hommage aux Grands Explorateurs © Vacheron Constantin
2022: Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication – Bacchus
Vacheron Constantin starts 2022 with an evocation of mythology as illustrated by the new unique piece Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication - Bacchus. In addition to the 16 complications on both sides of its gold case, the case middle is hand-sculpted in bas-relief and delicately set with rubies resembling bunches of grapes, in homage to the god of vines and wine. A fitting symbol of abundance to inaugurate this new year, which already promises to be adorned with new exceptional Métiers d'Art pieces. The journey continues...
Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication - Bacchus © Vacheron Constantin
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.Find out more >
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