Through its technical and precious virtuosity, Vacheron Constantin is reviving the romantic spirit of a botanical masterpiece
Vacheron Constantin delights in associating the intrinsic beauty of traditional artistic crafts with the subtle and cleverly mastered mechanics of Time. Two years after its first presentation, the Manufacture unveils three new models from its Métiers d’Art Florilège collection, already famous for its dials enamelled with exotic flower motifs, as well as its horological qualities. An exquisite trilogy imbued with a romantic lyricism freshly bloomed from the Geneva workshops.
Vacheron Constantin is prolonging the wonderment by enriching its existing Métiers d’Art Florilège collection with three unique new decors on which the stunning subtly graded colours accentuate the breathtaking realism. These miniature works of art – authentic anthems to femininity – are nurtured by artisanal skills mastered by the Manufacture. They represent vivid proof that the passionate relationship it cultivates with artistic crafts may be expressed through a wide variety of universes. A tribute to naturalism and to the art of 19th century British botanical illustrations, the dials are adorned with colourful petals that appear so real that one could almost touch their rounded volumes, velvety feel or even catch a hint of their delicate scent. A true compendium of Nature’s bounty.
In this new chapter, the most attractive plants from around the world blossom thanks to a cleverly orchestrated association of figurative guilloché, Grand Feu cloisonné enamelling, and gemsetting. These are timepieces well worth observing under a magnifying glass to capture all their subtle features, in which the smallest detail contributes to rendering the scene strikingly beautiful. The Métiers d’Art Florilège collection testifies to the constant attention devoted by Vacheron Constantin to the splendour of fleeting moments, to the evanescent magic of the plant world, while forging its reputation with truly exceptional creations.
A masterpiece of botanical illustration
1799 saw the publication of a book that would become one of the most remarkable botanical illustration works ever published. Two centuries have elapsed since the publication of The Temple of Flora by Robert John Thornton, and yet the 30 or so folio-size plates it contains have lost nothing of their charm and remain a benchmark in the field. Thornton was a physician who nurtured a real passion for the study of plants and for drawing. He composed this florilegium in reference to the great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus and his plant life classification system. He enlisted the services of the greatest naturalist painters of the era as well as the finest British engravers to illustrate the most spectacular flowers of the time. He spared no effort to satisfy his passion, to the point of engulfing his entire fortune in this endeavour.
The distinctive charm of the original engravings lies in the unusual or even monumental depiction of the plants, which are arranged at the heart of bucolic scenery marking the start of the romantic style. While The Temple of Flora is a didactic florilegium, it is above all a poetic work of which the lines – etched out in mezzotint, a tonal engraving process creating subtly graded shades, or in aquatint, a tonal printing process – are enhanced with hand-painted colours. In addition to its scientific and artistic aspect, this work also bore testimony to an era: that of the great 18th century British Explorers. The passion for these expeditions led to considerable effervescence and collaborate efforts between explorers, enlightened scientists and artists. The adventurers returned from their journeys with unknown plant life specimens that were duly studied and treasured in the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens of London, a place that is still one of the world’s most important of its kind.
Vacheron Constantin united some of the finest artisans to illustrate the three new Métiers d’Art Florilège jewellery watches – a creative challenge admirably met thanks to the expertise and dexterity of its artisans. Together, they undertook an in-depth thought process on the graphic side of the project in order better to reveal the special features of the original motifs and to coordinate every single gesture involved in the production stages. After working on a series of sketches in order to recapture the engraving effects, the zones to be illuminated were defined, the most suitable textures were selected, and the best colour associations chosen.
Figurative guilloché work
The master guillocheur drew the outlines of each plant life element on the gold dial plate: petals, stems, leaves, buds, pistils… He then guilloché-worked each flower by recreating the volume and the vivacity of each petal using a rose engine carefully safeguarded in the Vacheron Constantin workshops for more than a century. Contrary to traditional guilloché motifs, the direction and the curve of the rounded lines are all different and individually adjusted. This meticulous task involves great patience and is based on hundreds of attempts: each stroke corresponds to a highly specific measurement combined with a specific number of turns of the rose engine – much like the code of a safe. These three new creations comprise between 45 and 73 zones to be decorated, depending on the model. Any mistake in the course of the process involves starting over from scratch. And yet this guilloché pattern is essential to amplify the radiance and the nuances of the enamels coating the decor. It serves to highlight the texture of the flower and the depth of the subtle shades, while achieving the closest possible resemblance to the original engravings.
Grand Feu cloisonné enamelling
It was independent miniature painter Anita Porchet who applied the enamel to the motif traced by the guillocheur, with the two artisans working in perfect harmony. The colours of the illustrations are crafted in Grand Feu cloisonné enamel. The master enamellist first placed tiny gold ribbons around each plant life element so as to create small hollows ready to house the colour pigments, an extremely tricky phase. The ribbon had to be bent yet not broken in order to adjust it perfectly to the areas to be marked out. Anita Porchet then applied various enamel layers: some translucent, others opalescent or sometimes more opaque, depending on the desired depth and shading required. It is all a matter of subtlety, and the enamel specialist plays on transparency, on the fusion of colours, while maintaining a very strict order in terms of the nature of the enamels according to the rules governing the firing process. This meticulous operation involves numerous successive firing operations in the kiln serving to intensify the colour and light effects as well as the gradation of the materials. She then applies a glaze to vitrify the enamel and to give a special brilliance to the floral motif. In this instance, the countless gestures and shades have clearly pushed the boundaries of classic artistic craftsmanship.
Setting with pure diamonds
Vacheron Constantin maintains extremely stringent standards when it comes to selecting its precious stones. The diamonds are of excellent (IF to VVS) clarity and superior (D to G) colour. The bezel welcomes no less than 60 baguette-cut diamonds (totalling 1.40 carats) in the five-piece limited edition exclusively reserved for Vacheron Constantin Boutiques, and 64 round-cut diamonds (0.89 carats) on the 20 watches comprising the main collection. The precious stones are individually set around the rim of the bezel and lend the final touch to this masterful creation.
The vividly coloured leather straps ensure the overall perfection of these models and are secured by a white gold pin buckle which, depending on the model, echoes the diamonds on the bezel through settings featuring 12 baguette-cut diamonds (0.52 carats) or 21 round-cut diamonds (0.22 carats).
Time ticks by with perfect regularity
The Métiers d’Art Florilège trio is equipped with a mechanical hand-wound movement developed and produced by Vacheron Constantin: Calibre 4400. A mechanism boasting outstanding precision that beats off the hours and minutes with perfect regularity at a cadence of 28,800 vibrations per hour. It has an almost three-day (around 65-hour) power reserve. The decoration and finishing reflect the longstanding expertise of the Manufacture. The Côtes de Genève create ever-changing reflections on the mainplate, the polished screw heads gleam, the straight-grained angles accentuate the fine craftsmanship of an exceptional movement measuring 12.5’’’ (28.60 mm) in diameter. The latter is housed in a perfectly round white gold case with a transparent exhibition back protected by a sapphire crystal providing a chance to admire this intricate workmanship.
These three models come in two styles: one version with a bezel set with round-cut diamonds (approx. 1.10 carats), available in a 20-piece limited numbered edition; and another featuring a bezel set with baguette-cut diamonds (approx. 1.90 carats) available as a series of five numbered watches exclusively available from the Vacheron Constantin Boutiques.
These watches are all certified by the Hallmark of Geneva, one of the finest distinctions in terms of horological craftsmanship.