Stories Of Gods, Wine, Spirits, And A Watch: The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Bacchus
by Ken Gargett
One would have thought that the gods had no need to keep track of time. Surely, time is at their beck and call – or at the very least it follows their whims?
I am told that Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin is one of the finest watch brands in the world. In wine parlance, a Lafite, Krug, or Rayas perhaps. On that, I must take the word of others.
Vacheron Constantin released a watch that crosses the bridge between the worlds of watches and wine, the single-piece edition called Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Bacchus. I believe that watch people find this as exciting as wine lovers might find the new vintage of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Romanée-Conti. Whilst I can offer nothing to corroborate or dispute such assessments, it certainly looks the goods.
I understand that the aim was to combine astronomy and mythology and to include appropriate engraving and gem-setting on the exterior. It has “16 complications on a double-sided wristwatch, beating to the rhythm of in-house Caliber 2755 GC16.” In all honesty, telling me that is akin to explaining nuclear physics to a rabbit.
More comprehensible, to me at least, is that it is inspired by mythology: “the pink gold case takes the form of a bas-relief sculpture featuring vine leaves and clusters of grapes set with rubies in a nod to Bacchus.” Now we are transcending boundaries and crossing into worlds I find more fathomable.
The watch is “18k 5N,” meaning 18-karat, or 75 percent, pure gold with 22.25 percent copper and 2.75 percent silver [for hardness –ed]. To create this masterpiece took the work of two artisans contributing some 300 hours between them. The engraver needed to create “113 recessed spaces for the five different-sized rubies forming the grapes along with enough surrounding material to hold them in place.”
There is, of course, much more to this incredible piece. There is also “an astronomical reading of time representing a tribute to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), regarded as one of the founders of modern astronomy for having discovered the laws of planetary motion, in perfect agreement with Copernicus’ heliocentric hypotheses.”
More prosaically, the watch consists of an astonishing 839 components. Indeed, a watch worthy of the gods.
Which brings me to wine gods . . .
Now, when we start discussing wine gods, I have several friends who will assume that I am about to write about them. Sadly, I must disappoint them.
The watch references Bacchus, but he is only one of many gods who devoted themselves to the grape and drinking. Bacchus is the Roman god of wine, also known as Dionysus in Greek mythology. The Greeks also have a goddess of wine, Amphictyonis.
There are more. Oh, so many more. Acan was the Mayan divinity of alcohol. Aegir was the Norse god of ale and beer (and mead). Aizen Myo-o was the Shinto god of innkeepers. There is also a Shinto divinity of sake called Inari. Mexico has been blessed with a goddess of tequila, Mayahuel, while Tezcatzontecatl is their god of drunkenness and fertility (did no one see the irony in this?), while yet another god, Patecatl, is credited with discovering fermentation.
Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Sumeria all had goddesses of beer: Nephthys, Sirius, and Ninkasi respectively. Egypt also had a god of beer, Osiris. Ba-Maguje is the Hausa spirit of intoxication. Saint Brigid is the patron saint of brewing in Ireland. Liu Ling is the Chinese god of wine, while Du Kang is the Chinese sage of wine and apparently its inventor. Li Bai is another Chinese god of wine, but also a sage of poetry (drunk gods reciting poetry – shoot me now). Another busy divinity, though fortunately not one with responsibility for poetry, is Nokhubulwane, the Zulu goddess of beer. And agriculture, rain, and rainbows.
We have a Voodoo god of rum, Ogoun. He also holds sway over war, politics, hunting, iron, machetes, and tobacco – a busy god. A Cuban friend of mine will always pour a small amount of rum onto the ground whenever he opens a bottle. I asked him why and he just knew it was a tradition, but not where it came from. Now I have an answer: a tribute to Ogoun, though many will apparently also set the spilled rum on fire.
The ancient Slavic god of hospitality is Radegast, although I always thought he was a creation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, roaming Middle Earth (there is a Radegast the Brown who appears very briefly in Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, though features more in the film – an associate wizard of Gandalf).
Tenenet is the Egyptian goddess of beer and childbirth – no obvious link there! Varuni is the Hindu goddess of wine, while Sucellus is the Celtic god of alcoholic drinks and agriculture and forests. The god of wine for the Hittites was Teshub, also god of the sky and storms (today’s winemakers may find that a touch ironic). Apparently he knocked off his dad, Kumarbi, becoming the king of the gods. The list goes on. Seems the gods took wine, beer, and drinking very seriously.
Back to Bacchus . . .
. . . or Dionysus or even Liber Pater for the combined Greco-Roman religions. The latter’s origins are not known as well known as his alter ego, Dionysus, but he was worshipped at least as early as the Mycenaean period, the thirteenth century BCE. Bacchus was perhaps most famously depicted by Caravaggio in his late sixteenth century work (or perhaps the 1497 statue of him by Michelangelo). Apparently, Bacchus has also been celebrated by the naming of a grape after him. Originally bred in Germany in the 1930s, some now refer to it as the English Sauvignon Blanc. I am assured that this is meant as a compliment. (Really?)
Dionysus seems to have more of a history (even if he and Bacchus are supposedly the same divinity). He was the son of Zeus (a god or perhaps the god) and Semele (a mortal), who in turn was a daughter of Cadmus (king of Thebes). This union really irritated Zeus’s wife Hera, perhaps understandably, who convinced the pregnant Semele to insist that Zeus prove his divine status by appearing “in his real person.”
This did not go well for Semele, who was blasted into oblivion by thunderbolts when Zeus did so. Dionysus was saved as Zeus managed to sew him into his thigh to avoid the blast. And then kept him there until he reached maturity, hence twice born. Dionysus was then given to Hermes to be raised by the bacchantes of Nysa. During this time, he discovered that grapes could be turned into wine, supposedly taught this skill by the god Ikarios. Festal orgia were then held in Dionysus’s honor – apparently much more popular with women than men – and hence the name Bacchanalia. Among the “powers” imbued on women indulging in such events was the power to charm snakes. Meanwhile, any Athenian who disputed the power of Dionysus was immediately turned impotent.
Variations to these mythologies abound. The legends of Orpheus claim that Dionysus, known as Zagreus, was the son of Zeus, but his mother was actually Persephone, Zeus’s daughter (imagine a celestial version of “Melrose Place”). Hera arranged for the infant to be ripped apart, cooked, and then eaten by Titans (so perhaps more like a celestial Game of Thrones). However, Athena saved his heart and it was then through the unfortunate Semele that Dionysus was born again.
Zeus was a touch miffed by the Titans eating his son and fired off some lightning, burning them to crisps. From the ashes emerged the human race, blessed with the divine nature of gods and the evil nature of Titans. Hey, if we ignore evolution that makes as much sense to me as any origin story.
Like any good son, Dionysus never forgot his mother, even if they never “met.” Finally, he travelled to the Underworld to battle Thanatos to save her. His victory meant that she was entitled to leave the Underworld and live with the gods on Mount Olympus. Zeus rewarded Dionysus for this by turning Semele into the goddess Thyone. Meanwhile, the duties of Dionysus expanded and he also became the god of vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness, and wild frenzy, although one might assume that there was considerable overlapping in responsibilities.
Supposedly, and no doubt ancient historians can correct me on much of this, Romans tended to treat Bacchus with slightly less respect, seeing him as a god merely determined to promote drinking (not that there is anything wrong with that). Accordingly, in 186 BCE, the celebration of Bacchanalia was banned. This was, of course, before the reigns of such abstemious emperors as Caligula and Nero.
Dionysus later supposedly married Ariadne, if you don’t believe the version that she hanged herself after she was abandoned by Theseus despite helping him escape the Labyrinth after he killed Minos’s Minotaur. He was also renowned for traveling far and wide helping create the myths and legends.
One of the more well known revolved around his good friend, mentor, and drinking companion, and a minor god of wine as well, Silenus. Seems Silenus got stuck into Dionysus’s wine and was a touch worse for wear. It was not uncommon for anyone turning up unwanted in that condition to find themselves quickly dispatched should they trespass, which Silenus had done.
However, rather than murder Silenus, the local monarch, one King Midas, took him in and nursed him for ten days. Dionysus was very grateful for the king’s actions and to show his appreciation offered him a wish. We all know that Midas made the rather ill-considered wish to turn all he touched into gold. It did not go quite as well as Midas envisioned. Dionysus took pity on him and reversed the wish.
It’s a very good thing that Midas and Dionysus/Bacchus did not know Vacheron Constantin as this ticking treasure made of gold needs no meddling – not even from a god of time. Take a hike, Chronos, this holy trinity watchmaker does just fine without you as the Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Bacchus easily shows.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com/de/manufacture/craftsmanship/les-cabinotiers.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Bacchus
Case: 47 x 19.1 mm, red gold, faces on each side
Movement: manual-winding Caliber 2755GC16 with one-minute tourbillon; 33.9 x 12.15 mm, Geneva Seal, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, 58-hour power reserve, 839 components
Functions on front: hours, minutes, seconds (on tourbillon cage); power reserve indication, equation of time, times of sunrise and sunset, alarm torque indication; perpetual calendar with date, weekday, month, leap year indication; minute repeater
Functions on back: sky chart, age and phases of moon, sidereal hours and minutes, seasons, zodiac signs
Decoration: hand-engraved with vine leaves and set with 113 rubies (1.84 ct)
Limitation: unique piece
*This article was first published 24 January 2022 at Stories Of Gods, Wine, Spirits, And A Watch: The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grande Complication Bacchus
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