Vacheron Constantin salutes the Great Civilisations by launching 4 new and magnificent métiers d’art watches in an impressive partnership with the Louvre Museum in Paris. We were at the events in Paris and bring you along for this exclusive event.
Event Report: Vacheron Constantin salutes the Great Civilisation with 4 new métiers d’art watches and event in the Louvre
The VC Métiers d’art Tribute to Great Civilisations Watches
Four masterpieces. representing 4 eras, were selected to be depicted on the dials. These are important cultural symbols from the Persian Empire of Persian Empire of Darius the Great, the Egypt of the Pharaohs, the Hellenistic Greece of Alexander the Great’s successors and Imperial Rome. These icons were created by the master crastsmen at VC, and take the form of sculpted gold appliqués, placed on a dial as ornamentation is inspired by the decorative arts of the corresponding period.
These incredible creations are exclusive to Vacheron Constantin boutiques only, and are limited editions of five timepieces per theme highlight the rare talents exercised by craft makers.
The following descriptions of the artefacts and métiers d’art techniques are edits taken from the release documents.
Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Grand sphinx de Tanis
Sphinx is the Greek word used to refer to Egyptian statues of lions with human heads. A correlation has been made in the past with the Egyptian term shesep-ânkh. This term is in fact used to designate a statue in general, in other words a “living image”, to use the Egyptian concept. Royal symbols, sphinxes are often aligned on either side of the processional routes leading to the temples. On this monumental Grand sphinx de Tanis model, the work of cutting the stone with polished surfaces is admirable in its precision.
For the engraver of the carved gold applique representing the head of the sphinx, one of the difficulties – in addition to that of modelling the faces – lay in rendering the large false beard within such a small space. The master artisan had to work in relief using the pounced ornament technique, despite the thinness of the plate, before accentuating the depth effect by patinating the material with a blowtorch and then by hand.
The main dial is made of enamel whose deep colour, a mixture of blue and black enamels, is obtained after six firings in the kiln.
Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Lion de Darius
The frieze of lions is one of the few decorative elements of the Palace of Darius in Susa that was found on-site, in the first courtyard that welcomed visitors. This animal decoration was an important part of the iconography of Persian palaces, but also, before them, of Assyrian and Babylonian palaces. The lion symbol – representing both a royal animal and a divine attribute – were frequently found in these pleasure gardens and hunting reserves intended for the Persian monarchs and for the Assyrian sovereigns before them.
The prominent frieze of lions was thus a declaration of royal power, embodied by the king of animals. Made of siliceous glazed bricks that are bound with lime mortar, this decoration mingling realism and powerful stylisation is exemplary of masterpieces of Achaemenid Persian art. For the engraver of the applique depicting one of the lions, the challenge was to achieve an accurate rendering that matched the advanced stylisation of the muscles and fur of the noble creature’s mane that can be seen on the original.
As the lions are part of a frieze, the watch face in the background had to represent this decoration of glazed bricks affixed to a wall. To achieve this, the artisans opted for stone marquetry; and to accentuate the realistic look, they chose stone fragments with veins, which are by definition more fragile than those without. Given the large amount of waste in the cutting of the stones, three successive orders had to be made to finally obtain the 69 components of this marquetry, different in appearance and size. Compared to the model, the much brighter colour of the stones reproduces the appearance of the frieze as it was originally intended to be, before the shades faded. Given these colour constraints, combined with the technical difficulties of the mosaic, the relatively limited choice of stones was turquoise and yellow mochaite jasper. The frieze surrounding the dial was inspired by the decoration of another well-known work from the Palace of Darius: the Frieze of Archers. This ornamentation, consisting of a juxtaposition of triangles, is made of engraved metal and champlevé enamel with “ageing” inclusions. The writing elements engraved by metallisation on the sapphire crystal are taken from a tablet inscribed in Old Persian. This text in cuneiform script is one of the first written by Darius upon his arrival in power. It is a foundation charter for his palace. This Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Lion de Darius watch revives its full splendour.
Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Victoire de Samothrace
This Victoire de Samothrace, Niké in Greek, is a peerless masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture, due to the virtuosity of its white Parian marble carving and the ingenuity of its construction, which depicts a goddess standing on the bow of a ship. The name of the sculptor is not known, but the technique is reminiscent of the figures in the Gigantomachy frieze adorning the Great Altar of Zeus in Pergamon (180-160 BC). These two works are the best illustrations of a movement of sculptures typical of the second century BC. The work must be seen in the context of the offerings made at the sanctuary on Samothrace. Whether humble or splendid, these offerings were made in considerable numbers during this period of struggles for the eastern Mediterranean in order to thank the benevolent gods in honour of a naval victory or a rescue at sea.
This victory is most often associated with the battles of Side and Myonnesus on the coasts of Asia Minor in 190 and 189 BC. These two battles saw the kingdom of Pergamon, allied with the Rhodians and the Romans, triumph over its traditional enemies, the kingdoms of Antioch and Macedonia. The drapery of the statue, ruffled by the wind with a large flow of fabric falling in deep folds between the legs, represented a major difficulty for the engraver in charge of reproducing all its subtleties.
The centre of the main dial is enamelled in brown, a colour that is very difficult to achieve and required a mixture of rare enamels that are indeed no longer produced as well as six firings in the kiln. The periphery features grisaille enamelling depicting the decorative friezes taken from two Greek vases. These ceramic objects bearing red-painted geometrical figures feature various ornaments with foliage or geometric motifs, which are picked up on the dial. The latter is also surrounded by a gold frieze adorned using the line engraving technique, inspired by that of the Vase of Pergamon, a first century BC masterpiece of marble sculpted in bas-relief. The ancient Greek script engraved by metallisation on the sapphire crystal bearing the applied Victory is taken from a second AD votive stele discovered in Samothrace. This work is a list of Athenian initiates to the mysteries of the Great Gods of the island under the guidance of a certain Socrates – a name evoking the ageless glory of Greece masterfully celebrated by this Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Victoire de Samothrace watch.
Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Buste d’Auguste
Shown wearing the oak headdress, Augustus appears older in this marble bust than in other crowned effigies, often linked to the date when he was honoured by the Senate with the civic crown in 27 BC. Whereas Augustus was 36 in this year marking the start of the Roman Empire, the portrait is that of a man in his fifties. As is often the case with this type of depiction, the principate’s hair falls in heavy locks over his forehead. We see an emaciated sovereign, as he was at the dawn of his old age. His features are nonetheless the subject of an idealisation conveyed on the coins made in the workshops of Rome and distributed throughout the Empire.
The breastplated bust indicates that the emperor is represented as a warlord, in order to emphasise that his authority originated exclusively from the will – albeit fictitious – of the citizens. The carved gold applique reproducing this Buste d’Auguste offers a striking sight in which the drape of the cape accompanying the breast plate, secured by a fibula, echoes the curling locks held by the oak crown.
The centre of the dial is enamelled in blue-green, while its periphery is adorned with stone micro-mosaic. This is the famous fourth-century mosaic discovered in Lod, Israel, that served as the inspiration for the ornamentation motifs found on the dial periphery. The difficulty for the master lay in the fact that any error in the positioning and gluing of the tiny hard stone fragments would have required re-enamelling the Grand Feu dial used as a base. Meticulous care was required when adjusting the stones so as to follow the contours of the motifs and their colours. No less than seven different types of stones – 660 in all – were used to compose this micro-mosaic: quartzite, cacholong, dumortierite, mochaite, red jasper, grossular, red aventurine. For the outer frieze in white gold, featuring line engraving and patinated by firing in the kiln, another mosaic served as inspiration: the one depicting animals playing musical instruments, also from the fourth century and discovered in Sousse, a port city in eastern Tunisia. The Latin script engraved on the sapphire crystal bearing the bust of Augustus are drawn from a dedication addressed to the Genius (divine protector) of the city of Rusicada (Skikda in Algeria). The text commemorates its installation by a local dignitary who opens his invocation with a tribute to the emperor. The very one that endows this Métiers d’Art Tribute to great civilisations – Buste d’Auguste watch with its unmistakable aura of immortality.
The launch event in Paris
Th elaunch event saw some 100 journalists from around the world gathered in Paris for a couple of days. Vacheron Constantin pulled all the stops, and the event was a great success and showcase the VC team’s virtuosity in planning and organising high luxury events. The base was Hotel Hôtel de Crillon.
Hôtel de Crillon
The Hôtel de Crillon is a historic luxury hotel in Paris which opened in 1909 in a building dating to 1758. Located at the foot of the Champs-Élysées, the Crillon along with the Hôtel de la Marine is one of two identical stone palaces on the Place de la Concorde. It has been listed since 1900 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
With 78 guest rooms and 46 suites, the hotel also features three restaurants, a bar, outdoor terrace, gym and health club on the premises. The hotel was renovated from 2013 to 2017. In September 2018, the Crillon was officially designated by Atout France as a Palace grade of hotel.
The public spaces of the hotel’s lobby and restaurants as well as the suites are magnificently appointed
The Partnership with the Louvre
VC and the Louvre partnership began in 2019, and the maison’s designers and developers undertook to create a new series of métiers d’art watches inspired by the masterpiece in the Louvre’s collection. Louis Ferla, CEO of VC told us that this partnership is enriching both organisations at so many levels. This series of 4 new watches are only the beginning of what may to come from this relationship. We did ask if there were going to be more civilisations to be featured, but Louis was tight lipped, preferring to offer the element of surprise as the maison reveals her creations when the time is right.
Tour de Louvre
We were taken on a tour of the Musee du Lourve on a Tuesday morning. The museum is normally closed to visitors on Tuesdays, but on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, the museum was opened only to VC and her guests.
It was a rather surreal experience to be in the Louvre with only a handful of people wandering around the halls, as the museum is usually packed with tourists. We managed to do a tour of all the 4 masterpiece artefacts which inspired the 4 VC watches.
Gala dinner under the Pyramid at the Musee du Lourve
That evening, VC the a Gala Dinner for the participants. This was held under the Pyramid at the Lourve. What are normally the entrance and ticketing hall is converted into a massive dining area.
Performances representative of the 4 eras chosen peppered the evening. From the trumpeters, flag bearers and harpists who greeted us as we arrived, to the ancient the operatic aria from Aida and percussionists, the entertainment was excellent.
And the final curtain deserves special mention, as the evening drew to a close, the soprano had just completed her aria, when the curtains pulled back to reveal a full orchestra who have been accompanying all evening, and hiding there unbeknownst to us all along!
The dinner was excellent as well. The cuisine was catered by the chefs at the Michelin starred Jules Verne Restaurant with the aid of a bevy of chefs.
Vacheron Constantin has always had excellent offerings in the métiers d’art space. These four novelties are no different. They exceptional conception matched equally with superb execution.