Métiers d’Art Les Univers Infinis The Artistic Crafts of the Manufacture pay tribute to the art of tessellation
Representing the second chapter in a collection presented in 2012 at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, the new Métiers d’ArtLes Univers Infinis creations, inspired by the work of Dutch artist Cornelis Escher, pursue this glowing tribute to the graphic art of tessellation.
Vividly expressing the creativity of the Master Craftsmen whose skills are so greatly valued by the Manufacture, they illustrate the ties between watchmaking and culture that Vacheron Constantin has been perpetuating ever since its founding. At the crossroads between past, present and future, these timepieces embody the challenges taken up by the artisans of Vacheron Constantin and governed by a combination of talent, discipline and instinct.
Representing a symbiosis of several crafts, the new Métiers d’Art Les Univers Infinis trilogy uses the technique of periodic paving to create a strikingly hypnotic effect. Another skill highlighted by Vacheron Constantin, gold and mother-of-pearl marquetry, is associated with those of engraving, enamelling, gemsetting and guillochéwork to create trompe l’oeil dials featuring infinitely entwined elements of geometry, movement and symbolism. The space on the dials is filled with perfectly interlocking repetitive motifs, thereby creating a world of optimal illusion and perspective, beautifully framed by a white gold case. The slender bezel ensures a maximum dial opening, while the elegant hands are hollowed so as to provide full expressive scope for the art of tessellation.
The Hallmark of Geneva certified watches are driven by Calibre 2460, a mechanical self-winding movement entirely developed and crafted by Vacheron Constantin. In addition to its reliability, it bears manual finishes performed in keeping with the finest Fine Watchmaking traditions. The polished angles, hand-drawn flanks, circular-grained mainplate, bridges adorned with a Côtes de Genève motif and the gold oscillating weight featuring the elegant crossweave guilloché pattern, are all clearly visible through the sapphire crystal case-back.
Engraving, guilloché work and Grand Feu enamel
On the dial of this fascinating model, angels and demons face off in a contrast that is both symbolic and aesthetic. The former are in light, the latter in darkness, yet neither side appears to prevail over the other. Inspired by research conducted by Maurits Cornelis Escher on the “circular boundary” – involving décor composed of infinitely multiplied elements radiating out from a central point – the watch portrays these respective figures through a subtle combination of the arts of engraving, enamelling and guillochéwork, skilfully playing on depth and shimmering mirror-like effects.
Working with a white gold base, the engraver first traces the outlines of the figures and then hollows them out as cells using the champlevétechnique. Next comes the copperplate engraving that defines the details of the demons. The enameller fills the cavities thus hollowed out, an operation requiring infinite precision in that the repetitive symmetry of the pattern simply cannot tolerate even the tiniest flaw. After several firings in the kiln, during which the grey and blue colours are progressively set in place, the artisan applies a final layer of translucent enamel to the imps in order to accentuate the depth of the engraved motifs. The guillocheur then moves into action to craft the angel robes and wings by patiently incising the colourful material. It is extremely rare that guilloché work on an enamelled model is done as the last phase, precisely due to the extreme complexity of such an operation, since any slip of the tool could jeopardise the precious work of an entire team of artisans.
Engraving, Grand Feu enamelling, gemsetting and guilloché work
Red, brown, gemset or silver-toned, the lizards take over the dial to create a captivatingly animated effect. Inspired by one of the Dutch artist’s lithographs named Reptiles, the watch springs to life beneath the intermingled effect of four ancestral decorative arts.
The engraver begins his work by hollowing out the motifs from a yellow gold base. The enameller then fills in the lizards heading southwards with a taupe-coloured enamel, while those going west are coated in crimson red. The gemsetter then chooses to adorn the coats of certain reptiles with round-cut diamonds and finally, the master guillocheur dextrously enlivens the remaining lizards by highlighting their tiny scales measuring just a few tenths of a millimetre.
Engraving meets gold and mother-of-pearl marquetry
The majestic Ottoman horsemen with their inimitably proud bearing straddle the dial crafted in a superb gold and mother-of-pearl marquetry pattern. The shimmering colours of the materials mingle in perfect harmony.
The art of marquetry has been practised since time immemorial. The Egyptians used it in the form of precious stones and ivory inlaid into cosmetic cases and furniture. In the Middle Ages, Venice and the Byzantine empire exported luxury objects to the West featuring black and white geometrical motifs created by inlaying gold, ivory or mother-of-pearl into wooden veneers in a subtle range of lighter to darker shades.
The marquetry artist crafts a particularly complex object by adjusting two diametrically opposing materials. Each horseman is first cut out from gold and mother-of-pearl before being meticulously assembled, like a puzzle, on a gold base. There are no visible gaps between the figures – a tough challenge indeed within such a small space. Mother-of-pearl calls for extreme attention, since it is extremely fragile and must feature the perfect combination of thickness, specific colours and shapes, smoothly combining curves and straight lines in order to follow the lines of its gold counterpart. At the end of the process, the engraver perfects the horsemen and horses by hollowing out the details of their anatomy.