Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Long Live the King

Vacheron Constantin marries artistry and high watchmaking in its latest timepieces, which exemplify the very best in complications and craftsmanship.

The rounding of the tourbillon bridge along requires 11 hours of hand craftsmanship
As mechanical watch complications go, the tourbillon occupies a class all its own. Unlike traditional complications — devices that perform a function other than straight timekeeping — the tourbillon (French for “whirlwind”) does not mark the passage of time. Rather, the revolving mechanism was designed during the era of pocket watches, which would often sit for hours in the same vertical position. The spinning cage of the tourbillon helped counteract the effects of gravity on the watch, thereby improving its accuracy.

Today, watchmakers are finding innovative ways to adapt this vintage technology to wristwatches, earning high praise from connoisseurs who revere the newest tourbillons as marvels of contemporary horology. Complex and fascinating, these next-gen tourbillons are also exceedingly intricate — explaining why they are often called  feature has earned the nickname “the king of complications.”

Gone With The Whirlwind
Vacheron Constantin ups the ante with its Traditionnelle 14-day Tourbillon, which boasts a remarkable 14-day power reserve. Sheathed in a 42mm rose gold case, the model — also available in a sleek platinum version and a new daring openworked model — is a powerhouse of endurance. The longevity is made possible by the inclusion of four barrels mounted in coupled pairs. Yet the watch’s most obvious characteristic is its elegantly understated styling: a slender bezel; rose gold dauphine hands; and a simple, opaline silver-toned dial with a power reserve indicator up top and the tourbillon down below.

The Traditionnelle 14-day Tourbillon in platinum
Like nearly all Vacheron Constantin timepieces, the Traditionnelle 14-day Tourbillon bears the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva, a third-party certification that guarantees the origin, quality, craftsmanship and reliability of timepieces crafted within the borders of Canton Geneva. Although the Poinçon de Genève was instated in 1886, the certification process was overhauled in 2012. Now, the mark guarantees the quality of the watch as a whole rather than solely applying to the movement.

Intelligent Use Of Space
Another example of high watchmaking, the Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Openworked, takes a familiar complication — the perpetual calendar — and pulls back the curtain, as it were, on the marvelous complexity required to accomplish this feat of timekeeping. The openworked dial, which borrows its aesthetic from the lines and shapes of the Eiffel Tower, reflects a Vacheron Constantin tradition that dates back to 1755, when founder Jean-Marc Vacheron created a watch featuring an openworked movement andan  engraved balance cock.

The openworked dial highlights the perpetual
calendar movement's complexity
Over the ensuing years, the maison continued to emphasize transparency in the creation of its timepieces. In 1924, Vacheron Constantin produced its first entirely openworked caliber for a pocket watch. Since then, the house has earned a reputation for its skill in openwork, which requires a great degree of engraving expertise and a keen understanding of proportions.

Prior to beginning the design of an openworked model, Vacheron’s watchmakers and engineers devote hundreds of hours to conceptualizing the caliber to determine how much material can be hollowed out without compromising the integrity of the timekeeping mechanism. Next come the artisans. Lauded for their dexterity, they work each movement by hand to create polished and matte surfaces on the metal plates.
Some have curves and interior angles narrower than 45 degrees, which means only the nimblest of human hands can manipulate them.

Once the chamfering and hand-drawing are complete, it’s time to engrave the caliber. The meticulous process, which takes a full week, involves the use of a burin to gently incise and sculpt the motifs. The precision required to finish an entire caliber, which can include motifs that need to be engraved down to the nearest tenth of a millimeter, is beyond the capability of all but the most skilled artisans — all of which is evident with one look at the Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar Openworked.

Great Wide Open
Malte Tourbillon Openworked
The same rigorous process applies to the Malte Tourbillon Openworked, a tonneau-shaped watch that traces its name to an early Jean-Marc Vacheron creation that contained a part shaped like a Maltese cross. The part went on to become a signature feature of the maison’s movements, and explains why the Maltese cross is a key element of the company’s logo. Today, all of the tonneau (French for “barrel”) watches in the Vacheron Constantin collection fall under the Malte designation.
A close-up view of the engraved
movement from behind

Boasting a tourbillon caged inside an openworked movement, this exceptional model is the product of more than 500 hours of work, from conceptualization to modeling to design. To complement the geometric shape of the watch, Vacheron’s artisans came up with an architectural motif based on the shape of the triangle. Found throughout the caliber, the tiny triangles’ straight lines lend the piece a distinct sense of volume. A combination of light and shadow underscores the airiness of the timepiece, which comes encased in platinum and, like all of Vacheron’s complicated watches, bears the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva.

Travel In Style
The pinnacle of the firm’s openworked novelties this year is the Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Ajourées collection. The watches in this series take their inspiration from the grand railways of 19th century Europe and the golden age of travel that they epitomize. Together, they represent the apogee of Vacheron Constantin’s watchmaking skills: a perfect blend of the engraver’s art, the horologist’s science and the enameler’s craft.

The Mécaniques Ajourées’ three-dimensional, light-filled architecture is the result of weeks of painstaking work, many spent using a tiny handsaw known as a bocfil to shave down the surface of the mainplate and bridges. The artistry, however, doesn’t end there. The circular ring that surrounds the movement features grand feu enameling in three distinct versions: blue, gray or black. The latter is among the most challenging shades to achieve using the age-old and extremely delicate process of grand feu. There is also a high-jewelry version that glistens with 54 baguette-cut diamonds on the bezel and clasp.

Three versions of the Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Ajourées

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