From the press release
On the occasion of the tricentenary of the École Française de Danse, Vacheron Constantin unveils the three first one-of-a-kind creations in its new Métiers d’Art Hommage à l’Art de la Danse collection. These creations from the workshops of the Manufacture revisit the ancestral art of Grand Feu grisaille enamelling to highlight the art of classical ballet through several masterpieces by Edgar Degas.
The three first Métiers d’Art Hommage à l’Art de la Danse watches crystallise the magic and the subtly alchemy between complementary arts: that of the ballerina, that of the enameller, and that of the watchmaker. These talents are portrayed through the subtly mastered shades of Grand Feu grisaille enamelling, a technique currently mastered by only a handful of artisans. Entirely crafted in the workshops of the Manufacture, the dials are a stunning expression of finesse and timeless elegance.
Within a white gold frame, Degas’ beloved ballerinas glide gracefully beneath the ever-dancing hands. The master enamel artist drew inspiration from three paintings: Ballet Room at the Opera in Rue le Peletier, 1874, oil on canvas on display at the Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France); Ballet Rehearsal, 1873, oil on canvas exhibited at the Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, United States) ; and Two Dancers on Stage, 1874, oil on canvas on show at the Courtauld Gallery (London, United Kingdom). Chosen by the enameller after extensive research on the dancers’ expression, these paintings represent three key moments in the life of a ballerina: learning, practice and performance.
The finesse of Grand Feu grisaille enamel painting reveals the slightest details of the protagonists: the tiniest fold of the tutus, the lace adorning their décolleté, the smooth velvet of the ribbons encircling their neck, the petals of the flowers in their hair, the transparency of tulle and muslin… The dancers glide across a wooden parquet that reflects the light and reveals their shadows. Entirely in the manner of Degas, the Vacheron Constantin master enamel artist reinterprets the exact moment, the gestures, the pose and the perspective, playing on chiaroscuro light and shade effects to anchor the scene firmly in reality.
Whereas grisaille enamelling is generally applied to black enamel, the House artisan decided to work with a translucent brown enamel base serving to accentuate the depth effect while lending a soft nuance to the painting. After applying this base, the enameller adds touches of Limoges white enamel that is then drawn out out using needles, extremely fine brushes and even cactus thorns so as to create graded shades and play on the various pigments.
Limoges white enamel is a now rare and extremely rare powder mixed with oils. The challenge lies in the material itself that is extremely difficult to work with and requires the artisan to display almost intuitive sensitivity. Each of the layers requires a firing operation that must be timed to the nearest second. With each Grand Feu firing, the enamels change, become more intense and retract. The enameller’s experience plays an essential role in this process. The firing times are calculated according to the type and quantity of the material applied and their exact duration is one of the trade secrets of the artist who must juggle with a broad range of grey shades. The latter are perfectly suited to the art of portrait painting, as is confirmed by the extreme finesse shown in depicting facial expressions.
Framed to perfection by the understated elegance of a finely polished 40 mm-diameter case, the Grand Feu grisaille enamelling of the Métiers d’Art Hommage à l’Art de la Danse is entirely hand-crafted with infinite patience, meticulous care and intense concentration. A worthy heir to the spirit of the Cabinotiers cherished by the founders of the House, this ancestral technique reclaimed by Vacheron Constantin succeeds – without the help of vivid colours nor additional material – in creating an authentic depth effect that captures the ballerinas’ experience right the way through to the tiniest fold in their costume. The music to which they move is the regular beat of the self-winding Calibre 2460, entirely developed and crafted in the Manufacture Vacheron Constantin. Such a work of art naturally deserved an exceptional movement, and its superlative finishes are performed in keeping with the finest Genevan traditions of Fine Watchmaking.