The Shepherds of Arcadia, an elusive watch with a hidden story?

Bergers d'Arcadie

In 2011 Vacheron Constantin held its first major exhibition outside of Geneva at the National Museum of Singapore The Treasures of Vacheron Constantin. This exhibition featured over 180 pieces representing Vacheron Constantin’s production from 1755 to 2005. A special catalogue was published for the occasion and the watch gracing the cover was not a grand complication or a unique minute repeater but a tiempiece the general public and many at Vacheron Constantin (including yours truly) were unaware of:  Les Bergers d’Arcadie (The Shepards of Arcadia).

This 50mm marvel of finesse was made in 1923 for brothers Robert and George Grandjean who were members of the Vacheron Constantin board at the time.

This timepiece which is a tribute to everything Vacheron constantin holds dear today in the Metires d’Art, has a very original enamel dial with blue printing, the back of the case features Nicolas Poussin’s Les Bergers d’Arcadie painted in miniature enamel by leading early 20th century Geneva enamel artist Marie Goll.

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie


The double back cover features an engraving inspired by Leopold Robert’s painting l’Arrivée des Moissonneurs dans le Marais Pontins (1831) (Arrival of the Harversters at the Pontina swamps).

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie


Under the pastoral scene is an engraving of notes from Beethoven’s Symphonie pastorale.

The Shepherds of Arcadia, an elusive watch with a hidden story?

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

But that’s not it! The movement is engraved using the line engraving technique. The bottom plate also has an engraving of Raphael’s famous two angels as found in his Sistine Madonna (1513-1514). This painting was the last of the painter's Madonnas and the last painting he completed with his own hands.

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie


What is really interesting is the choice of the painting. Poussin painted two versions of the Shepherds of Arcadia, one in 1629 and a second in 1638. It is the later which is depicted on the back cover.

The two paintings portray Arcadian shepherds pointing towards a the inscription Et in Arcadia Ego engraved on a tomb.

The first painting from 1629 depicts 3 men and a woman. Two men and the woman are occupied by the discovery of the tomb which seems to have an unsetteling effect on them. The third man sitting further from the others seems unaffected.  Poussin’s second version of the painting features the same shepherds but this time in a more serene atmosphere.

Bergers d'Arcadie


Bergers d'Arcadie

It is greatly believed that Nicolas Poussin placed hidden messages in these two paintings the principle of which is the Latin phrase Et in Arcadia ego. 

The literal word-for-word translation of the phrase is "Even in Arcadia I [am there]," "I" being death, and "Arcadia" being understood as a utopian land. Certain have believed that this phrase not being a proper Latin sentence was an anagram of I! Tego arcana dei, which translates to "Begone! I keep God's secrets", suggesting that the tomb contains the remains of Jesus or another important Biblical figure. They claimed that Poussin was privy to this secret and that he depicted an actual location.

The question remains? Did the Grandjean brothers subscribe to this theory and consequently chose the subject ? is the mix of different subjects (The shephers, the harvesters and angels as well as selected notes from the Symphonie Pastoral) just a question of a love of the brothers for the arts or does it hide a deeper meaning?

Something which could be worth looking into.

A closer look at the dial is heart throbing and emotionally evocative experience. The grain of the enamel the finess of each line, the color of each pigment is mind blowing and I am left speachless before such talent so I'll let the photos do the talking.

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie

Bergers d'Arcadie



12/06/2012 - 17:21
JB
12/06/2012 - 18:35
12/09/2012 - 23:48
Doc
12/07/2012 - 10:31
12/08/2012 - 15:10
SJX
12/08/2012 - 17:36
12/09/2012 - 01:17
Doc
12/10/2012 - 23:46
What a beautiful work of art
12/06/2012 - 17:21
Thanks for this prompt for me to take my copy of The Treasures of Vacheron Constantin off the shelf for another look -- something I have not done in a while.
What a beautiful story Alex
12/06/2012 - 17:34
Amazing artistry and a mystery - who could ask for more?  Clearly the Grandjean brothers were held in the highest esteem! Here is a portrait of Georges Grandjean, but I don't have one for Robert.  I understand he was an officer of the Crédit Suisse and therefore very useful as a member of V&C's Administrative Counsel.  LOL, I'd like to know how the brothers shared this treasure...I can't picture anything so amicable between MY brother and I wink. Georges-Marin Grandjean's bio at Worldtempus is brief but interesting: Director and régleur for Vacheron & Constantin. Received the lst and 3rd prize in 1896 at the Geneva Observatory.  Filed Patents in 1904, for a device to modify the precision spiral fine-regulator, and in 1905, for a new mechanism for the chronograph counter.  I see this watch has their most precise vernier-type regulator - I'm sure as tribute to the old master régleur.
I missed this exhibition last year in Singapore :(
12/06/2012 - 17:54
What a piece of art! There are many things I love and respect about Vacheron Constantin but the one key thing is VC's strength in watch-making art. There are many haute horology brands I respect but when it comes to artistic execution (including such complex execution), VC is the best IMHO! If VC hosts such an exhibition again in Singapore, I won't miss it next time! Thanks for sharing Alex! Cheers, robin wong
Thank you Alex
12/06/2012 - 18:35
This is fascinating stuff! A little exploring makes even more so. Herewith enclosed two references about the work. There are many more.http://www.philipcoppens.com/arcadia.html (Very interesting discussion about how the figures relate to certain constellations)http://www.artble.com/artists/nicolas_poussin/paintings/the_arcadian_shepherds Regarding the first painting... I don't think that the man sitting down is unaffected at all. It looks more like he is very affected, even downcast or depressed. It's also as if he knows or realizes something about the tomb or inscription that the others do not. And what's that just below his left elbow. It looks like someone's head (in profile) ?? Very curious indeed! Joseph
Constellations
12/09/2012 - 23:48
The Philip Coppens article is fascinating.  I can already see the outline of a Dan Brown book or an Indiana Jones movie!
Really enjoyed the story and intrigue with the excellent
12/07/2012 - 03:33
detail in the photographs. Thanks for a great piece. Best to all, Tim
Amazing watch! Question?
12/07/2012 - 10:31
When I saw it the first time in 'the flesh', my thoughts were: 'How many hours, and how many watchmakers were involved in creating it? Alex, any notes that you can share. How many and who they were I'm sure you know, but how many hours, or days or weeks? For my old repeating jump watch, now at V&C's Museum, Dom informed me those who were involved making it!! That's really fantastic what a treasure V&C hve in their books. And the repeating small hammers, a quarter repeater it is! Some pictures of a nearly 200 years young watch, from the world's finest watchmakers, through all times heart Cheers Doc
Doc, that pocketwatch is so beautiful to see
12/07/2012 - 15:29
Is it really 200 years young?  Amazing!
Wow! that's what i call art !
12/07/2012 - 11:43
a truly deserving piece of art. yes it's like re-visiting the louvre museum.
another hidden symbol? There is a snail engraved on the
12/07/2012 - 12:01
balance cock!
And there is something else also on the balance cock...
12/07/2012 - 15:28
I can't make it out, but it looks like a rabbit, maybe?
Re: And there is something else also on the balance cock...
12/07/2012 - 16:36
Hi Robert, It is difficult to make out but if you turn the image upside down, it looks a bit like a bird. That would make sense in that on one side time crawls (ie slowing down the movement...retard, slow) and the other side...time flies, (speeding up the movement ie avance, fast) Maybe it just replace the fast and slow words seen on the balance cock for adjustments. Just a thought... Joseph
Re: And there is something else also on the balance cock...
12/07/2012 - 19:09
After looking at the entire photo of the balance cock, it does indeed look like a rabbit. But it doesn't change the rest of my comments :-) Joseph
I agree, Joseph
12/07/2012 - 19:28
r
Alex, do you have a pic of the full movement?
12/07/2012 - 16:37
Please post if you do smiley
Hi Dean, there already is a photo of the whole movement in the post:-
12/07/2012 - 17:32
e
Sorry Alex, I meant
12/07/2012 - 18:31
the rest of that close-up showing part of the balance cock.  I fiddled with the larger pic to reveal a bit more detail and notice the sapphire endstone also characteristic of V&C's chronometer-grade movements. The workmanship is reminiscent of the skilled work displayed in the so-called "Ostrich Feathers" piece, also from 1923.  I wonder who the engraver was for the case and movement - was it the same person?  Seems these skills are deserving of some historical recognition, as we do with the enamel artists like Goll and Poluzzi.
A clue!
12/07/2012 - 18:41
The initials "A J G" appear on the cuvette engraving.
Very nice dedication around the periphery! (nt)
12/07/2012 - 19:13
 
Snail (slow) Running rabbit (fast).
12/07/2012 - 18:57
There is a picture of the movement on page 148  in "Treasures of Vacheron Constantin" 
Thanks Kent!
12/07/2012 - 19:18
What a great sense of whimsy on the part of all involved in creating this piece heart
a close up of the snail and the rabbit on the balance cock
12/10/2012 - 13:09
Bergers d'Arcadie
Oh, sweet!
12/10/2012 - 16:42
So much more poetic than what we usually see on the balance cock.  This detail adds a bit of whimsey to the serious nature and mysteriousness of the painting.  All in all, this watch is beautifully composed beyond the stunning execution of the painting, engraving and construction.  Thanks for the additional close-up, Alex. Best, Robert
Re: The Shepherds of Arcadia, an elusive watch with a hidden story?
12/07/2012 - 22:57
great article Alex i am unable to describe the beauty and craftsmanship of this watch in words
Tremendous work as usual, Alex.
12/08/2012 - 07:05
That is definitely the sort of artistry nobody but Vacheron can (or could) accomplish.
A great Cover story...
12/08/2012 - 15:10
Alex - I can't think of a previous article that has intrigued me so much. The contributions by fellow Loungers invariably provide more questions than answers!.wink Every aspect of the work involved is no less than stunning; a special mention for the wonderful enamel work by Marie Goll... Both Robert and George must have been overwhelmed to receive such a beautiful watch in it's entirety. I'd love to know how they went about sharing it? An elusive watch?  There can be no doubt! With thanks Tony
Fascinating, thanks Alex. nt
12/08/2012 - 17:36
nt
Astonishing watch
12/09/2012 - 01:17
for its work, and the enamel is marvellous, the stories it tells and the one it keep secret :) , and in direct link to the manufacture, what an important watch it is. The trees remind me a bit of some dutch masters. Thanks for sharing Alex. Francois
Re: The Shepherds of Arcadia, an elusive watch with a hidden story?
12/09/2012 - 03:38
the artistic sensibility of the past was and will always be exciting ... no comment, just admiration !!! - the catalog ( singapoore 2011) has to be a good book for my collection :))))
SIGNATURE A. G.
12/10/2012 - 23:46
Nothing,  Absolute nothing is holy, in these days. He's been there devil A.G. Alex Ghotbi....laugh The wind is free! Doc
LOL, you nailed it Doc! nt
12/11/2012 - 00:32
nt
ROTFLMAO :-) good one Doc!
12/11/2012 - 10:36
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