A great big thanks to Vacheron for organizing this event. A personal thanks to Julien, Juliette, Mikael, Jeanne, Jean, Lucie, Supachai, Ludovic, and many others who all made my stay so pleasurable; if I forgot someone's name, please forgive me (especially the graveuse at Les Masques... je suis vraiement désolé mais je me souviens plus...). If any of you are reading this: je me suis vraiement beaucoup amusé la-bas, et surtout j'en ai beaucoup appris, et ça valait bien le détour de la Nouvelle-Orléans. J'espere que vous avez vu encore plus de stars (peut-etre Britney Spears?) au bar de l'Hotel. ça m'a fait plaisir de parler Français vu qu'ici j'en ai pas beaucoup l'occasion, et vous remarquerez peut-etre que mon orthographe et ma grammaire sont vraiement pourries. Et surtout, ne lisez pas ce qui suit.
My pictures are really not very good, so I will post a minimum. In the meantime, and I hope I can post this here, here is a thread on the purists with excellent pictures and some videos. I certainly cannot beat that:
The exhibition at Sothebys:
I certainly learned a tremendous amount at this interactive exhibition, and would recommend anyone to try and go to one of these events or a similar one.
There were watches everywhere (including the Tour de L'ile!!), and many other displays well worth the visit. To me however, the interactive stands were the most exciting part!
Here is a small personal account of the various stands in clockwise order:
This was one of the most eye opening exhibition as far as I am concerned... The skills displayed are amazing. My pathetic attempts simply sent a wheel flying through the air where a very well sighted gentleman actually managed to find it. I stopped right there and simply enjoyed the skills displayed.
Mikael (the watchmaker), was nice enough to open my own watch and actually where some of the differences were that made it a Geneva Seal watch, including some of the pivots and a few other things, and what the benefits are of these various implementations.
He also said that indeed, making a movement up to the Geneva Seal standards adds a substantial amount of time to the watchmaking process. He confirmed that a minute repeating mechanism is probably the most complicated, but that a tourbillon cage was an absolute pain to mount as the parts are extremely small and all the more fragile.
I never realized how much hand made work needs to be done in order to make a watch as even modern machine made parts are not good enough to make a movement: they still need to be individually adjusted and polished in order to fit and work together; that is what takes a large amount of time and skills to make a very good watch.
Merci pour tout Mikael. Et faut arreter de fumer aussi.
Mikael showing how it is done!
Now, here came a total shocking surprise to me. I had no idea that the machines used today are just about the same as the ones used 100 years ago (and more). Every control of the guillochage is manual and up to the skills of the artisan: the amount of pressure on the bit, the up/down movement of the dial, the various knob tweaks at every single line... The extreme care needed to do guillochage around dial openings, etc...
The skills needed to do some of the guilloche patterns just defies my imagination. I will never look at a guilloched dial the same way again. The work on the Tour de L'ile is just mind-boggling....
Supachai helped me make a little souvenir of a little guillochage of an "N"... Merci de ta patience :-) Et la prochaine fois je t'apporterais des Mentos.
The Graveuses (both at the exhibition and at the Masks room):
That anyone can actually do work of such precision and beauty is beyond my mortal understanding. The skills displayed is just one part of the art itself. I was very happy to learn from Jeanne that Vacheron Constantin still values the Artist as the master of her/his own work: one of the key elements to me is the artistic input and creativity an artisan has in her/his own work. The artist mostly works with a concept given to her/him, but is not told exactly what to do: the subject research, integration and form in the final design and execution is left to the Artist. Of course when you have to reproduce a mask exactly as it is, this might seem limited, but there is more than meets the eye in the Artists' work.
A funny anecdote: apparently, a little before I turned up at the Masques exhibition, a guest wanted a picture at the engraving stand, in which she was posing for her friend with the tools in her hands. For the picture she then proceeded to actually strike the hammer a little bit on the mask.... little did this guest know that this was NOT an interactive stand, but the mask she was hammering on was actually the REAL THING. Fortunately, the engraver intervened in time and managed to work over the tiny mishap... All ends well.
Le gravage existe:
"gravage: (n. m.). Article lié à celui-ci : gravure.
[CD][périphérique] Action de graver un CD avec un graveur."
Jean and Lucie were wonderful people. The skills once again are beyond my human comprehension. My trials ended in a palm tree foliage which ressembled nothing of the sort you will find on the real dials... The fact that the tiny paintbrush is already half the size of the target you are trying to paint into does not help. It does take about 2 weks of work with a team of 5 to get one of those dials ready. Any mistakes in any of the 35 oven processes means you have to start from scratch again....
The fact that you need a microscope just to see the enamel paint on your brush speaks volumes...
Jean et Lucie: merci beaucoup de votre patience et je vous souhaite beaucoup de bonheur pour votre evenement plus tard dans l'annee (vous savez de quoi je parle :-)). Et je vous promets d'essayer d'arreter de fumer cette annee!
The Jean and Lucie team:
We all received a nice bag of goodies, including a great book on art from the Barbier-Mueller museum (where the masks come from). The little yellow circle in the middle is my guilloched "N"...
The after dinner: We had drinks at the bar in the hotel, where they made me discover the wonderful Mojitos of the Beverly Wilshire.
This was a memorable event, probably one of the best of its kind. Anyone who has a chance to go so such an event should not give up the chance!!