SIHH 2010 Metiers d'Art - La Symbolique des Laques

VC Press release

SIHH 2010 Metiers d'Art - La Symbolique des Laques

No one at Vacheron Constantin can be unaware of what a passion for fine watchmaking involves. For without passion, there are no real expectations. And though yesterday’s cabinotiers have disappeared, their memory lingers on near the workbenches in the halls of the Manufacture, and today is reawakened by each watchmaker and craftsman, whose movements rekindle their spirit and perpetuate their knowledge.

Time is also memory. Undoubtedly, one of Vacheron Constantin’s greatest qualities is that it remains faithful to these visionaries and virtuosi of another age. The ethics and commitment to excellence that motivate each of its employees have kept the Company consistent for over 250 years. Embracing the philosophy of one’s forebears, when it includes this essential humanism, brings a kind of happiness that few are privileged to enjoy.

Vacheron Constantin is deeply committed to handing down and developing the watchmaking trades, especially the artistic crafts, which bring together the quintessential skills of the highly specialized decorative arts used in watchmaking (enameller, engraver, guillocheur, and gem-setter). This commitment continues today through timepieces that are true works of art and whose manufacturing secrets survive in the workshops of only a few masters and craftsmen.


The Métiers d’Art collection…
When knowledge of the spirit resides in the hand that gives life to the object, man endows each of his creations with a soul.


When Vacheron Constantin institutionalised the Métiers d’Art collection in 2004 with the limited series of Tribute to the Great Explorers timepieces, it demonstrated its unshakeable will to perpetuate one of its core values: carrying on the traditions of craftsmanship found in fine watchmaking’s artistic trades.

So, for this initial collection, master watchmakers combined their talents with master enamellers – each working in their respective crafts as masters and lovers of their art – to combine ancient and modern techniques and give birth to watches that are exceptional for both their mechanics and their aesthetics. The patented movement combined an astonishing display of the time with a dial made even more beautiful by an ancient and complex art: grand feu enamelling.

On the same principle, the Masques series in the Métiers d’Art collection – the first set of which was presented in 2007 – also illustrated to perfection how skills and expertise can be combined. In this case, the skills and expertise were those of master watchmakers and master engravers, who worked hand in hand to create timepieces that were true invitations to travel through time and space in search of humanity’s roots, and to reflect upon one of the most beautiful expressions of its soul.

An encounter between Vacheron Constantin, which in 2005 marked 250 years of activity in Geneva, and Zôhiko, which will celebrate its 350th birthday in Kyoto in 2011… 


Together, more than 600 years of history.


The incredible reaction to the Métiers d’Art – Les Masques collection born of the encounter between Vacheron Constantin and Geneva’s Barbier-Mueller Museum has only strengthened the watch manufacturer’s conviction that today, more than ever, it is important to match the cultural and artistic trades with watchmaking of the highest technical quality.

Such a combining of talents, associating both technical and decorative virtuosity with accuracy, perfectly illustrates Vacheron Constantin’s core values: seeking excellence, supporting creativity, being open to the world, respecting and handing down traditions, and finally, sharing the passion.

Now, the brand is opening up a whole new horizon for combining watchmaking and decorative techniques, by offering for the first time a Métiers d’Art collection in which part of the work is done outside Geneva – and in fact on a far-off continent, since mysterious term maki-e refers to the crown jewel of traditional ancestral Japanese lacquer techniques.


How the “Métiers d’Art – La symbolique des laques” collection came about

The idea of a project combining maki-e and watchmaking had long been filed away in the drawers of Vacheron Constantin’s design department. But the spark that would bring it to life had never been found. The spark was finally to come from Zôhiko, which had the same idea in reverse – combining the talents of the watchmaking arts with those of the lacquer arts.

The reference to “Masks” is no coincidence: it was the technical and artistic boldness and the beauty of this collection that encouraged Zôhiko to introduce itself to Vacheron Constantin in the autumn of 2007, to explore the possibility of cooperating.

While chance and luck play a role in every meeting, a true relationship can be built only on the basis of deep affinities and shared values. These developed immediately between the two companies, both of which have the same fundamental respect for cultural, technical, and artistic traditions. Vacheron Constantin is the repository of an uninterrupted history dating back to 1755, and Zôhiko, founded in 1661, is almost a century older. The two together have garnered 600 years of experience and expertise.

Above all, however, this collection is a human adventure. It is a voyage through and exploration of an unknown “great beyond” in which craftsmanship and innovation come together at their zenith. Of this union between the craftsmen of one of the oldest Japanese lacquer companies, Zôhiko – headquartered in Kyoto since its founding in 1661 – and Vacheron Constantin – the world’s oldest watchmaker, which has been making watches in Geneva without interruption since its beginnings in 1755 – was born a remarkable embodiment of the same core values: the Métiers d’Art – La symbolique des laques collection.


Three Years, Nine Designs, Sixty Sets

True to the spirit of the Métiers d’Art collection, the symbolique des laques theme will change over a period of three years, with each year bringing a new set of three watches in a limited series of twenty.

Each set will feature motifs selected from the vast symbolic treasure trove of Far Eastern artistic traditions. Each design, which may stem from the world of animals, plants, or minerals, has meaning and can be combined with another: divine or heroic figures are associated with animals, these animals with plants, the plants with virtues or abstract qualities, and so on. The designs often make reference to literary works, poems, or legends.

From a watchmaking standpoint, the legendary ultra-thin Caliber 1003 has been chosen by Vacheron Constantin to equip this series of timepieces – and more specifically a skeletonized version of the movement crafted in 14-carat white gold. Nonetheless, so as to magnify the overall harmony and to ensure that the maki-e craftsmanship is suitably highlighted, Vacheron Constantin even went so far as to opt for a ruthenium treatment which – by toning down the natural radiance of gold – creates a particularly elegant effect on this model. The sapphire crystals on either side enable one to admire the exceptional finishing, and in particular the bevelling craftsmanship performed in the workshops of the Geneva-based Manufacture.

Meanwhile the deceptively simple lines of the delicately rounded case radiate an exemplary understatement and purity entirely in tune with the zen spirit of the Métiers d’Art – La symbolique des laques collection.


Longevity

The first set will explore the theme of long life with “The Three Friends of Winter” – Saikan no sanyû 歳寒三友 : the pine tree, bamboo, and the plum tree. This classic trio of the Chinese symbolic system was a very early arrival in Japan, where it is just as popular as in its country of origin. By virtue of their resistance to extreme cold, the “Three Friends of Winter” have longevity as their primary symbolic meaning. By extension, they are also associated with the loyalty of a friendship that survives the hard times symbolized by winter.

Pine trees are venerated for their age and strength. They are also held in high esteem because they remain green in the winter. Bamboo is seen as a perfect gentleman, flexible in the face of change but without ever giving up its ideal: once the storm has passed, it returns to its original position. The plum tree is respected because it is the first tree to flower, while winter still holds sway, and it is the longest-lived fruit tree. The ideal of well-read Chinese and Japanese was to be “strong like the pine, tough like bamboo, and pure like the plum tree.”


Each of the “Three Friends of Winter” is paired with a Bird.

For example, the long-lived pine is accompanied by the crane, whose whiteness recalls the accumulation of years. Bamboo is associated with the sparrow, whose ceaseless activity symbolizes the vitality of the continually renewed bamboo. Finally, the plum tree is matched with the nightingale, because both celebrate the arrival of spring, one with its early flowers and the other with its song.

Vacheron Constantin chose this combination of three double motifs in close cooperation with Zôhiko. Each watch has a double face lacquered using the maki-e technique. The main design of the tree on the front of the watch is matched by the bird design on the back, facing the wrist. Here, too, Vacheron Constantin’s choice falls within a Japanese tradition, as many Japanese lacquerware objects are decorated even on their hidden surfaces, for example, on the insides of lids or the bottoms of boxes.

The Pine Tree and Crane Watch – Matsu to tsuru 松と鶴

In Taoism, and to a lesser extent Buddhism, the tubular structure of bamboo symbolizes the notion of emptiness. Like Tao, “the way,” which rises up from emptiness and returns to it, the center of the bamboo is empty. This emptiness, or space, also represents the simplicity of tolerance and open-mindedness. Bamboo’s flexibility and toughness, which allow it to bend without breaking, represent integrity.

Though it does not live as long as the pine, bamboo is also associated with longevity. While a single bamboo shoot does not live long, an entire grove can grow from a single shoot. Similarly, bamboo dies after it flowers, but many kinds flower only once each century, which means that they do, after all, reach a respectable age.

Bamboo groves make especially attractive nesting sites for flocks of sparrows. Despite their restless and sometimes quarrelsome ways, sparrows are considered to be a symbol of loyalty in Japan. They never stop singing “chu, chu, chu!” or “be loyal, loyal, loyal!” In collections of popular legends, the sparrow is often represented as having a strong sense of honour and duty. The pairing of bamboo and the sparrow also frequently appears in the paintings of Zen Buddhism, in which bamboo signifies the ideal of awakening and freedom from worldly attachments, and the sparrow represents spontaneity and joie de vivre. 


The Pine Tree and Crane Watch – Matsu to tsuru 松と鶴

SIHH 2010 Metiers d'Art - La Symbolique des Laques


The Bamboo and Sparrow Watch – Take to suzume 竹と雀

In Taoism, and to a lesser extent Buddhism, the tubular structure of bamboo symbolises the notion of emptiness. Like Tao, “the way,” which rises up from emptiness and returns to it, the centre of the bamboo is empty. This emptiness, or space, also represents the simplicity of tolerance and open-mindedness. Bamboo’s flexibility and toughness, which allow it to bend without breaking, represent integrity.

Though it does not live as long as the pine, bamboo is also associated with longevity. While a single bamboo shoot does not live long, an entire grove can grow from a single shoot. Similarly, bamboo dies after it flowers, but many kinds flower only once each century, which means that they do, after all, reach a respectable age.

Bamboo groves make especially attractive nesting sites for flocks of sparrows. Despite their restless and sometimes quarrelsome ways, sparrows are considered to be a symbol of loyalty in Japan. They never stop singing “chu, chu, chu!” or “be loyal, loyal, loyal!” In collections of popular legends, the sparrow is often represented as having a strong sense of honour and duty. The pairing of bamboo and the sparrow also frequently appears in the paintings of Zen Buddhism, in which bamboo signifies the ideal of awakening and freedom from worldly attachments, and the sparrow represents spontaneity and joie de vivre. 

SIHH 2010 Metiers d'Art - La Symbolique des Laques

The Plum Tree and Nightingale Watch – Ume to uguisu 梅と鴬

The plum tree is known above all for the fact that its delicate, pink-tinged white flowers open in mid-winter. Their subtle perfume spreads through the coldest month of winter, awakening the first hope of spring. Although neither the plum tree nor its flowers are particularly magnificent, they have such a fresh, exquisite character that they delight the spirit in the midst of winter’s desolation. The plum tree serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and humility in the face of the world’s adversities.

The pairing of the plum tree and the nightingale seems to be more of a Japanese development. Both are the first messengers of spring: the first song of the nightingale is called hatsune 初音, or “the first sound of the year.” There are countless examples in art and poetry associating the plum tree and the nightingale. They are frequently depicted with snow as well, as plum trees often open so early that their flowers seem to blend in with the snowflakes 

SIHH 2010 Metiers d'Art - La Symbolique des Laques


What is maki-e?
Maki-e 蒔絵 – which literally means “sprinkled picture” – is the most sophisticated of all lacquer techniques, designating a decorative operation in which the design is created by delicately sprinkling gold or silver dust over lacquer – usually black – while it is still wet.

The lacquer is made from the sap of the lacquer tree, Rhus verniciflua. This tree, a relative of poison ivy, originated on the high plateaus of central Asia or Tibet. Today, it grows only in southern China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan, but it seems to have had a much wider range in the past. In Japanese, the word for the substance and the name of the tree are the same: urushi 漆.

Lacquer techniques vary from country to country and are based on the quality of the lacquer and the use to which the objects will be put. The three categories most representative of the lacquer arts are carving, inlay, and maki-e. The number of possibilities is almost infinite, and the invention of maki-e and its variations by the Japanese is one of the most remarkable marriages of technical mastery and aesthetic sophistication in all the history of art. This decorative technique developed very early in Japanese history. It matured as an art form between the eighth and twelfth centuries A.D., becoming the predominant method of ornamentation beginning in the seventeenth century and remaining so to this day. It does not seem to have been used in China – or if it was, it disappeared very early on. It was highly prized there, however, as evidenced by the many orders placed from the continent over the centuries. Maki-e’s own rise allowed the techniques it involves to blossom as well. Beginning in the mid-tenth century, this technique far surpassed all its rivals and was heavily preferred over them for the delicacy of its execution, its quality of being distinct yet misty at the same time, and its incredibly poetic presence.

One of the greatest beauties of lacquer is that it can decorate the most precious of objects as easily as those used in everyday life. Lacquerware bowls and crockery have come down through the centuries, as have variously shaped boxes with all sorts of uses: document holders, tea caddies, incense boxes, paintbrush holders, inkwells, card cases, pill boxes, etc. While there has always been lacquered furniture, the preference has almost always been for small objects, for work that is enchanting in its meticulous perfection.
Just beautiful!
01/18/2010 - 20:48
Pieces of art! So beautiful you would never wear them Thanks Alex! Doc
While I can appreciate the artistic innovation of laquered dials
01/18/2010 - 22:46
I have my reservations and believe I would never wear a watch like this... It's just not me...
this is , in my opinion, a pleasant surprise in this year's offing....
01/19/2010 - 05:36
much easier to appreciate to the prior Métiers d’Art – Les Masques collection. i have seen this lacquered techique applied on pen and they are very appealing, gold dust on lacquered oriental artwork. now, i wonder, if  there will be a signature by the master for each individual watch which will enhance it's collectivity.  i have also seen other pics of the watch front and back revealing the skeletonised movement done to perfection, drool, wonder what's the recommended retail on this?  but anyway,  
Beautiful watches! These may be selling fast in Japan. (nt)
01/19/2010 - 05:58
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