'll post in the flesh photos and comments in another post. meanwhile here is an excerpt from the press release
With the Savoirs Enluminés, a 60-piece limited series, it takes us on a voyage of discovery to the very heart of the Middle Ages, of illuminated manuscripts and the transmission of knowledge.
With the Savoirs Enluminés, Vacheron Constantin highlights the importance of combining talents by drawing inspiration from a work from the Middle Ages, an ancient Celtic manuscript internationally recognised for the quality of its illuminations: the Aberdeen Bestiary. This art of miniaturisation, designed to emphatically celebrate a sizeable body of handwritten literature, is a complex technique requiring extensive collaboration between scribes, painters and gilders, in the creation of veritable works of art.
The Aberdeen Bestiary was commissioned in the 12th century. This “book of beasts”, conveying a wide range of knowledge and beliefs, is filled with information that is key to understanding the evolution of humankind while exalting the power of metaphor. In the Middle Ages, this rhetorical procedure was very common and the symbolic role of the animal expressed itself to the full. It was credited with feelings and character traits that can be compared to human beings. The animal did not exist for what it was, but rather to represent the wonders of Creation. It taught knowledge, but above all transmitted moral precepts. It was variously used to convey dreams, conquests or power, and regularly appeared in fables and satirical novels. The art of illustration was an integral part of this educational vocation. The creatures represented in a figurative painting style with great colour intensity and highly detailed drawings often feature fantastical attributes resulting in a strikingly modern graphic appearance.
The Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés comprises three 20-piece limited editions, with each timepiece illustrated with an animal from the Aberdeen Bestiary. The first of this trio is the “Altion”, a beautiful seabird linked to Water, building its nest on the seas, no matter what the weather, and symbolising serenity (an extract from folio 54v). The care given to its blue green plumage, the elegance of its wings and the flexibility of its posture perfectly fit the circular shape of the dial.
The second model, “Vultures”, is adorned with two fowl back to back – the quintessential ambassadors of the Skies, casting a knowing glance. Against a graded pink background, their bodies form a circle, the symbol of infinity and longevity.
The third model, “Caper” – is devoted to the Earth (extract from folio 14r). It presents a midnight blue goat with a piercing gaze, and endowed with exceptionally sound judgement.
These three creatures are illustrated in a representation that is extremely true to the original illuminations. Each project involves its own set of considerations, as well as surprises and wonders. In these models, Vacheron Constantin has chosen to call on traditional decorative techniques: the art of Grand Feu enamel reminiscent of illumination, engraving as a nod to calligraphy, along with a delicate phase of shadowing and gold texturisation in order to create the effect of gold leaf.
The complexity of these timepieces can be seen at first glance through a twin-level 22-carat gold dial. The upper element, bordered by a frieze, has a fantastic creature in its centre. Adorned with Grand Feu enamel, the upper dial perfectly marries miniature and champlevé techniques. The task of enamelling is long and labour-intensive, with colours applied through a microscope, one after the other, before several stages in the kiln, while remaining as true to the original as possible. In the background, the enamelled gold background is magnificently textured by hand with the help of fine brushes and erasers in order to emulate the gold leaf effect as closely as possible. And, as is always the case, the unexpected can occur at any time, and enamel remains a fragile, capricious art, but the luminous result is there for all to admire.
The upper level opens on the right, revealing the lower part. There are traces of a Latin text from the manuscript. This is a tribute to the creative power of Nature (Natura) and Life (Vita). This miniscule piece of gold is structured over three levels of detail, none of which are thicker than 0.9 mm. The raised, polished letters contrast with the finely grained background, while the Arabic numerals on the chapter ring, arranged in a semi-circle, are delicately painted on the upper surface. Finally, between these two levels on the dial, the hour numbers slide from top to bottom, in turn, in 60 minutes. The effect is truly striking! The light reveals a subtly balanced association of matt or polished finishes. This exemplifies truly outstanding craftsmanship in the domain of miniaturisation
This astonishing display is made possible by an exclusive mechanism: self-winding Caliber 1120 AT, built an ultra-thin base movement. Developed and crafted by Vacheron Constantin entirely in keeping with the traditions of haute horlogerie, it meets the Hallmark of Geneva criteria that are no longer confined to the movement alone, but also take account of the complete watch. It beats at a frequency of 2.75 Hz (19,800 vibrations/hour) and has an approximately 40-hour power reserve. Its finishing and its construction testify to fine workmanship taken to extremes. Not only are the main flat movement surfaces adorned with a meticulous Côtes de Genève pattern, but all their sharp angles are also finely chamfered and hand-polished. The same applies to the screw heads.
Housed in a white gold case and measuring 40mm x 49.45 mm, 10.30 mm thick