Watches: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d'Art Savoirs Enluminés

By Thierry Ané on April 8, 2015

In my book, the introduction of a new “Métiers d’Art” collection by Vacheron Constantin is always an exhilarating moment when my unconditional love for Fine Watchmaking meets my sensitivity to Fine Arts. There is not a single high-end Swiss brand that comes close to this renowned Manufacture when it comes to presenting exceptional decorative pieces!

The first outstanding feature about Vacheron Constantin’s approach to artistic crafts is that, each time, they do not unveil a single timepiece: they always introduce an entire “collection” of exquisite models exploring a given theme with some never-used-before and always extinct decorative techniques. Then, beyond the amazing artistic skills they never fail to showcase, they also focus on the Haute Horlogerie component. Most of their “Métiers d’Art” creations house utterly unusual calibres displaying the time in a way that never spoils the artistic integrity of the piece and they also carry the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva, attesting that they are finished to the strictest standards of the Haute Horlogerie tradition.

With the new “Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés”, the Manufacture takes us on an oneiric journey through medieval illuminations. The collection draws aesthetic inspiration from the “Aberdeen Bestiary”, an ancient Celtic manuscript recovered from the Middle Ages that is internationally recognised for the quality of its miniaturised illuminations.

These amazingly detailed illustrations were more than mere decorations: they were an integral part of the book’s educational vocation. Through symbolic representations, they often conveyed a wide range of beliefs and with the “Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés”, Vacheron Constantin offers a vibrant tribute to the transmission of knowledge that these priceless manuscripts symbolize.

The trilogy selected by the brand is devoted to the major elements surrounding human beings: the Water, the Sky and the Earth. The first piece features Altion, a chimeric seabird linked to the Water as its blue and green plumage suggests. Adorned with two fowls back to back, Vultures represents the ambassadors of the Skies. Caper, the midnight blue goat adorning the last creation is devoted to the Earth.

Just like the medieval illuminations were the joint work of scribes, painters and gilders to create veritable works of art, the dials of the “Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés” required the skills of several highly specialised artisans: the art of Grand Feu enamel replaced the ancient technique of illumination, engraving was used as a direct nod to calligraphy, and a delicate phase of shadowing and gold texturization was necessary to re-create the effect of gold leaves.

All three twin-level 22-karat gold dials are built in the same way. On the left stands an upper level bordered by a frieze and featuring the fantastic creature in its centre. Altion, the Vultures, and Caper come to life with the use of Grand Feu champlevé enamel techniques and expert miniature painting.

This beautifully decorated component opens on the right to reveal the lower part of the dial. Also made of gold, it is engraved with segments of a Latin text from the “Aberdeen Bestiary” manuscript. On this level, the expertise of the enamelist gave way to the dexterity of the engraver artist to hand-carve tiny polished letters and create a clear contrast with the finely grained background.

A chapter ring, arranged in semi-circle, seems to float between the two levels of the dial. With delicately painted Arabic numerals ranging from 0 to 60, this ring features the static minute track on which the dragging hours will indicate the time of the day. The hours move one after the other across a 120° scale. They are mounted on three satellite wheels and represent the major watchmaking complication of the 1120 AT calibre that animates these timepieces (a quick look at the official picture of the movement from the dial side, below, reveals how they work).

The self-winding movement bearing the Geneva Seal has been entirely developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin. Made of 205 components, it offers 40 hours of power reserve. Its beautifully engraved gold oscillating weight can be admired through the sapphire crystal on the back that also gives you a glimpse at the superlative finishing of the bridges.

The “Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés” are presented in a rectangular 40.00 x 49.45 mm case crafted in white gold and mounted on brown hand-stitched, saddle-finished Mississippiendis alligator strap with large square scales. They are secured by white gold folding buckles with a half Maltese cross on the clasp. The case band of each model is engraved with “De altione”, “De vulturisus”, or “De capre”. Each model will be produced in a limited run of 20 pieces only.

Like every opus of this extremely rich “Métiers d’Art” saga, the “Savoirs Enluminés” series strikes the perfect balance between Fine Watchmaking and Fine Arts. They perfectly embody what can be done with huge creativity, exceptional technical talent, and dedication to traditional crafts.

For more information please visit the Vacheron Constantin web site.