Though it may seem that using rare and even unusual artistic crafts is a major trend running through high horology at the moment, it is important to remember how very difficult both the execution of and inspiration for these crafts can be.
Guilloché, enamel, engraving, and even gem-setting are skills that almost died out in the pre-mechanical renaissance watch industry along with the art of mechanical watchmaking itself. Therefore, there are truly very few artists today able to perform them.
Vacheron Constantin is one of the lucky few brands to boast two important elements in perpetuating this “trend” rooted in traditional crafts: in-house craftsmen and the incredible, artistic eye of product director Christian Selmoni. The former includes an engraver, a guillocheur, an enameller and a gem-setter forming the “cell” creating the rare dials for the Métiers d’Arts pieces that Vacheron Constantin produces within the Plan-les-Ouates factory.
The latter, Selmoni, is an artistic product director who finds inspiration in the human adventure, both historical and contemporary. I should know: I had the pleasure of spending a day with him in Mexico City this past fall seeing the sights (and I don’t mean the horological sights within the SIAR fair – but rather those outside, in the Mexican capital, a city quite uniquely enamored of art). The spontaneous conversations were fascinating, providing me with exquisite insight into what moves Selmoni and how the artistic research he performs may end up as an ultra-rare piece of art adorning a Vacheron Constantin timepiece.
One such result of his cultivated, imaginative musings is the “Infinite Universes” (“Les Univers Infinis”), a series owing its inspiration to Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898–1972). This artist’s woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints explored infinity, architecture and tessellations.
Tessellation, a concept even my children have learned about in math class at school, is nothing less than the result of creating a two-dimensional plane using a repeated geometric shape with no space in between. Escher often used tessellations to create illusions – who hasn’t seen the famed staircase lithography called Relativity?
In the Vacheron Constantin Les Univers Infinis timepieces, the tessellations visible on the dial, however, represent the endless infinity of the universe using natural, organic themes: fish, shells and doves were the subject of the first set launched at the 2012 edition of the SIHH. Above and beyond the symbolism of each of these elements within themselves, the tessellation using them represents the infinite cycle of life and the infinite power of the universe.
The Dove Watch is created using engraving, grand feu champlevé enamel, guilloché and gem setting in addition to the art of watchmaking. The arts of guilloché and grand feu cloisonné enamel aid in making the Fish Watch so inherently special. The Shell Watch utilizes engraving and grand feu champlevé enamel in addition to the art of watchmaking to create this tessellated mechanical universe.
Another trio of Les Univers Infinis appeared in 2013, this time using the same rare crafts to create two human themes (Angels/Demons and Horsemen) in addition to the zoological Lizard Watch. The Horsemen Watch is particularly noteworthy in this second series as it introduces another craft to the line: marquetry using mother-of-pearl.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com.
Case: 40 x 8.9 mm, 18-karat white gold
Dials: guilloché, enamel, engraving, and gem-setting on an 18-karat gold base
Movement: automatic Caliber 2460 SC, stamped with Seal of Geneva
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds
Limitation: 20 pieces only of each model, only available through Vacheron Constantin boutiques