Rarely has the main theme at SIHH for Vacheron Constantin be so strong .
Vacheron Constantin launched its first skeleton watch in the 1920s and since the 1960s these watches have always been on catalogue, maybe a bit discretely but in 2014 Vacheron Constantin affirms its mastering of the skeleton watch more than ever before with simple to highly complicated pieces.
It is interesting to underline the fact that all modern Vacheron Constantin movements (basically since 2005) have been designed as to be skeletonized and this is highlighted by the new 3D architectural skeleton movements found in this year's offerings.
But let’s start with the full dials before letting the skeletons out of the closet
Malte Tourbillon Collection Excellence Platine
Launched as a pre-SIHH piece, the Malte Tourbillon is now available in a 50 piece limited edition in the Collection Excellence Platine meaning not only is the case in platinum but also the deployant clasp, an achingly gorgeous sand blasted platinum dial and… platinum/silk stitching on the strap. Needless to say that this watch (like all the other CEP timepieces) is a smack in the face!
Malte Small Seconds
In 2012 – to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the tonneau shape in its collections Vacheron Constantin launched a revamped version of the Malte, closer in design to its historical forefathers than the previous models. Originally available only in a rose gold case housing the manual winding caliber 4400, this year a white gold version is launched with two major modifications (which will be applied throughout the line)
- A minute track has been added to the dial
- A sapphire crystal case replaces the solid one. The crystal is tonneau in shape and gives the impression that the movement is a form one whereas it remains round
Funny how just the smallest things can make huge change. I find the minute track adds extra presence to the dial and the opening of the case back is a pretty interesting touch even though a tonneau movement would have been the best solution but I can understand that developing a tonneau movement would have dramatically increased the price of the watch.
Malte Small Model (mechanical)
Previously only available with a quartz movement the Malte for ladies is now available with the hand wound cal 1400.
Malte Tourbillon Openworked
Also launched in 2012 with a full dial, the Malte Tourbillon is now presented in a gorgeous skeletonized version housed in a platinum case and probably my favorite Vacheron Constantin offering of SIHH this year! But that’s not all, as this version alsointroduces the new Cal 2790 with date and power reserve indicator! The slate grey outer ring gives the watch a certain presence which contrasts well with the delicacy of the skeletonization and engraving, the latter consists of a specific triangular pattern chosen to accentuate the contrast between light and shade on the movement. The movement itself takes over a week to bevel and engrave.
Interestingly with the skeletonization the case actually looks more angular that the full dial model.
The effect you see on the date ring will not exist on the final version as these photos are that of the prototype. The final version will have a sand blasted background.
Patrimony Traditionnelle 14 Day Tourbillon Openworked
Sometimes skeleton watches may seem stuffy and old fashioned but here the designers and artisans have done an amazing job as even if the cal 2260 has had close to 40% of its metal removed it retains a certain masculine and contemporary look which is highlighted by the slate grey outer ring and I particularly like the notched power reserve indicator, very industrial looking!
The engraving is quite interesting too as the movement has a “Gothic” pattern and all in all the movement engraving and beveling alone takes over a week to achieve!
The hefty 42mm platinum case finds some lightness with the skeletonization.
Metiers d’Art Fabuleux Ornements
Vacheron Constantin presents a new collection dedicated to the fairer sex, this is the second after the Florileges which were launched last year. And I am lost for words here, never have the words “works of art” been so applicable than here.
We are on a whole different level, these are no longer watches but a homage to arts, crafts culture and to paraphrase Baudelaire an invitation to travels.
The Fabuleux Ornements (which loosely translates as beautiful ornaments) is inspired by the world of ornaments from different fields and cultures:
- Painted manuscripts from India
- Lace patterns from France
- Silk embroideries from China
- Architectural motifs from Turkey
These watches house the skeletonized calibre 1003 in a 37mm rose gold case (white gold for the French Lace model) with surprising dials using Guillochage, Grand Feu enamel, diamonds, pearls and mother-of-pearl, as well as engraving, glyptics and gemstone cloisonné effects.
Each model is limited to 20 pieces.
Grand Feu champlevé enamelling and hand engraving
Framed by a pink gold case topped by a diamond-set bezel, ten vibrant enamel colours blossom on the dial. These shimmering shades form oriental-inspired flowers blooming against a blue sky. The richness of Indian illustrations are highlighted by a profusion of intense enamels surrounding the skeletonized calibre, like the floral motifs decorating the margins of ancient oriental writings. The contours of its décor are first traced using the champlevé technique to create cavities separated by thin gold partitions in order to apply the 10 different enamel hues…which is quite a daunting task. The foliage is hand-engraved after enamelling and is one of the most delicate stages, since even the slightest slip of the hand can jeopardise the entire creation.
Chamfering, mother-of-pearl, and half-pearl beads
The dial consists of a chamfered pink gold moucharaby (wooden lattice) motif of which every edge is delicately bevelled by hand. Daintily perched on a natural white mother-of-pearl base, the gold gridwork studded with half-pearl beads echoes the scrolling patterns in Middle Eastern architecture. The meticulously executed decoration on the rings, known as milgrain and featuring strings of tiny bead shapes coined along the edges, add to the magic of the workmanship.
Guillochage, Grand Feu enamelling and gem-setting
A luminous white gold lacework adorns the translucent hand-guilloché Grand Feu enamelled dial. This lace pattern is reminiscent of the grand tradition of French-style embroideries, evoking the dextrous craftsmanship performed with the crochet needle or the spindle. The base of the gold dial is clad in a guilloché motif lending subtle depth to the transparent enamel.
Glyptics, gemstone cloisonné work and engraving
Crafted in pink gold according to the cloisonné technique, the dial is carpeted with flowers in rubies, cuprites and garnets. Like the silk thread Chinese embroideries embellished with precious fabrics, the stones cut and sculpted according to the glyptic art are adorned with finely engraved gold leaves and pistils. God is in details as can be seen in the veins of the plants and the rounded shape of the petals which endow them with a fascinating depth effect. The particularly delicate ruby engraving is a true challenge. The pink opals are individually cut and lapped to form a tapestry of stones on a dial prepared for this purpose with barely 0.5 mm thin white gold partitions.
Metiers d’Art – Mécaniques Ajourées
Translating as Openworked Mechanics these watches are a first in two fields; the first skeletonized version of Cal 4400 housed in a 40mm white gold case and are currently the only men’s Metiers d’Art models made not as a limited edition and at a price which wouldn’t cost an arm and leg!
The designers were inspired by the architectural codes of the European railway stations built in the 19th century and sharing common codes:
- Arches: the curves of the bridges
- Glass ceilings: the skeletonization
- Central clocks: openworked ring with Roman numerals
To achieve this new methods of skeletonizing and engraving have been used. Rather than using a bocfil or tiny handsaw to cut out the smooth surface of the mainplate and bridges before drawing them out with a file and chamfering them, the engraving artisans have carefully chased the parts around their entire circumference so as to create a sculpture with its own volume and depth. Inspired by the ribbed vaults of late 19th century railway stations, they have created delicate arches on the calibre. These rounded shapes are a complete change from the straight lines of classic skeletonized movements, and imply an even more complex process of chamfering and hand-drawing. Amid a clever interlacing pattern of interior angles, the polished zones catch the light, while the matt finish of the hand-drawn surfaces further heighten the contrast with the radiance of the polished areas.
But that’s not all! The in-house enamelling artisans have created a ring topping the calibre which requests a certain virtuosity, since the circular shape of the ring to be enamelled implies substantial risks of distortion.
A further difficulty was added here in the form of achieving one of the shades most difficult to create with Grand Feu enamel: a deep and opaque black. This was a daunting challenge, since the darker the colour, the more the light reflects even the slightest imperfections. To render the full beauty of this black hue, enameller had to create a perfectly smooth and uniform surface so as to avoid the appearance of any undesirable bubbles during the successive firings of the enamel.
The Mecaniques Ajourées watches exist with three different colored rings: black, blue and grey. A 4th version with black ring, diamond set bezel (42 baguette cut diamnds) and buckle (12 baguette cut diamonds) ,for a total of 2.8 carats is also available.
Even if not a limited edition per se the Mecaniques Ajourées watches will be made in very low numbers due to the difficulty of execution.