At Watches & Wonders 2015, the newer “mini SIHH” watch trade show event in Hong Kong, I got the pleasure of finally getting some hands-on time with some new watches from Vacheron Constantin that I was excited about checking out since we debuted them back in April of 2015. Our Rob Nudds was equally enthralled with the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés collection of limited edition watches here when we first covered them. I highly suggest looking over that article for more information on the artistic craft, movement, and illuminated manuscript inspiration of these timepieces.
While Vacheron Constantin has fans everywhere, I feel that it is in places like Asia where the brand currently shines the most. I felt like Vacheron was easily the “star brand” of the Watches & Wonders 2015, and that wasn’t just because they had their mega-sized and mega-complicated one-of-a-kind ref. 57260 pocket watch on display there. Today, Vacheron excels when it comes to combining traditional watchmaking prowess with artistic dials and sometimes cases. When these two areas of focus combine successfully, the result is a watch that feels more than the sum of its parts because you attract the attention of so many different types of passionate people. For me, at least, the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés collection inspired by illuminated manuscripts, and more specifically, the Aberdeen Beastiary, is a fantastic example of how this practice can result in a beautiful piece of wearable art.
Of course, the downside of mixing complicated watchmaking with artistic technique is a natural limitation in production quantity as well as high prices. You simply can’t rush work like this but for those keen on items of this nature (with the budget, of course), these can be wise timepiece investments. I say this as proponent of inherent value when it comes to the purchase of all things. Don’t buy a watch because market trends might point to it increasing in value someday or other collectors buying it. Please, never do that. Rather, look at the undeniably inherent value of the watch and its craftsmanship, and ask yourself, “will this work be appreciated and valued years from now?” With the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés watches, how can you suggest that the mixture of technical and artistic value is something fleeting?
The brand used the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés to debut its new cushion-style case from the Vacheron Constantin Harmony collection, for art watches. At 40mm wide and 10.3mm thick, these extremely wearable and masculine cases serve the purpose well and should show up in the future for other generations of Métiers d’Art men’s watches, in addition to serving as the case for Harmony collection models. It feels manly yet a bit different on the wrist, and I think that these types of timepieces really benefit from such a unique case design.
For Vacheron Constantin, the challenge when it comes to art watches is to display a range of craftsmanship on the dial while also telling the time. Vacheron Constantin has played this game before, and often comes up with fantastic solutions that allow for an interesting indication of the time as well as a palette for art. Of course, the traditional solution is to simply have a traditional dial with hands but no hour indicators. This works in some instances, and Vacheron Constantin does this with other timepieces, but at the same time, such a dial design tactic can easily result in extremely poor legibility, as well as an undesired obstruction of the dial art.
Inside the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Savoirs Enluminés is the new Vacheron Constantin in-house made caliber 1120 AT which is just the type of mechanism I like to stand behind. Designed for both convenience and visual interest, the automatic movement displays the time using a satellite system for the hours which drags the current hour indicator over a minute scale. As mentioned in the previous article, this is more or less how most Urwerk watches indicate the time, and sometimes is referred to as a “Star Wheel,” based on some seminal timepieces from Audemars Piguet that use this for wrist watches, even though the concept is much older than that.