We got to handle and photograph the latest Vacheron Constantin Métiers D’Art Tribute to Great Explorers – dedicated to the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India in 1498. The special tribute is offered in a pink gold case, enamel painting of the map of the exploration on the dial, with the Cal. 1120AT featuring retrograde hours and minutes. The watch is presented as a limited edition of only 10 pieces.
With this third opus in the Métiers d’Art Tribute to great explorers collection. The first two series were presented in 2004 and 2008. The first two chapters feature dedications Magellan, Zheng Hé, Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo. These were a great success among collectors, and VC followed up with this latest (2021) series featuring Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral. The same magnificent styling of miniature map compositions in grand feu enamel paintings are used to illustrate their adventures. Our focus today is the one dedicated to Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama.
Da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India opened the way for global imperialism, and enabled Portugal to establish a colonial empire in Asia. And with it, the violence and the brutal show of force by da Gama and those who followed, established a reputation of power that became the pattern for western colonialism, maintaining absolute control over indigenous kingdoms of India and South East Asia. Traveling via the ocean route allowed the Portuguese to avoid sailing across the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula, where their enemies lurk, and established an early Portuguese dominance. The colonies in the far east became economic assets, as Portugal then had access to the sources for the lucrative spice trade. Da Gama was celebrated as a hero of this fortunes of the empire. He was made Viceroy of India, and the Portuguese national epic poem, Os Lusíadas, was written in his honour by Luís de Camões.
Vacheron Constantin Métiers D’Art Tribute to Great Explorers- Vasco da Gama
Retail price is SGD 188,000 inclusive of GST.
The VC Vasco da Gama is housed in a classic round case in 18k pink gold. The case measures 41mm in diameter. The bezel features two convex steps, giving some volume to the case, with straight lugs with visible fastening screws for the straps. A ball shaped crown adorns the right side of the case. The case design is very elegant, and is an excellent frame for the magnificent miniature map painted on the dial.
The dial is a two level dial, and unusual at many levels, although the same styling has been used in VC’s earlier Tribute to Great Explorer Series 1 and 2. The lower level of the dial is seen through a 120° arc of an aperture open on the upper level. Both feature miniature paintings in grand feu enamel. The VC logo is printed on the underside of the sapphire glass, and appear to float above the dial.
The miniature painting on the dial is inspired by a map from the 1519 Miller Atlas. A painted reproduction is currently found in the Portuguese Maritime Museum in Lisbon, and VC has sought to replicate the imagery on the map. The dial shows the part of the world, and maritime routes taken by da Gama. Africa is depicted on the left, and India is on the right, painted on the lower dial. And the Indian Ocean with Da Gama’s flagship, the São Gabriel is shown in the dial center, sails billowing on a stormy sea. The other ships in the armada are shown at the circumference. A compass rose is shown on the 9 o’clock dial position to give reference to the map.
In order to replicate the finely nuanced colours and delicacy of the motifs, VC chose enamel as the medium. Each dial is in grand feu enamel, and require a full month’s work. Eleven separate firings needed to be made in the kiln at temperatures between 800°C to 900°C. Each stage is crucial, as the possibility of the enamel cracking at any time is very real. If this occurs, the enamellers will have to start again and waste weeks of prior work. Each colour of the paint used is selected to match the painting of the map, and the continents are enhanced with gold-colored enamel powder.
The time display
The time display is also very special, though it has been used in the other watches in the Great Explorer series. The hours glide en passant across a stationary arc painted with the minute markers from 0 to 60 in 10 minute intervals. The marker itself is in the form of an Arabic numeral and its relative position to the minute arc indicates the minutes passed.
They way the hours are displayed is via a complex mechanism. The hour numerals are carried on an hours wheel which is equipped with three arms. Each arm bear four hour numerals in Arabic at its peripheral. The entire satellite structure rotates, such as at any one time, only one numeral on one arm shows within the aperture of the 120° arc cut on the dial.
A cam shaped like the Maltese Cross hidden below the dial ensures the right numeral on the right arm is displayed. The minute markers are fixed on lower dial, and as the hour indicator glides across, the minutes are read by the relative position it makes to the minute markers.
The movement: VC Caliber 1120 AT
The movement chosen is the Caliber 1120 AT, which is used in most of the maison’s Métiers D’Art pieces, for example the Savoirs Enluminés. The movement is rather thin, measuring just 5.45mm thick, enabling the 41mm 4N pink gold case to maintain an overall thickness of just 11.68mm. From the case back, the movement is clearly visible, with the VC Compass Rose engraved on the 18k gold rotor. As is typical of VC, the movement is very well finished, and achieves the Poinçon de Genève hallmark. All the usual elements of a haute horlogerie finish are present and well accounted for, and executed to the highest levels customary for the maison.
On the wrist, the Vasco da Gama has an enormous presence, despite the rather slim and comfortable proportions. The watch wears well, and perhaps a tad smaller than the 41mm diameter might suggest. It carries off with an elegant grace, as the colours used on the dial is muted, in keeping with the noble intents of the piece. Did we say the dial is gorgeous? Well we’ll say it again. It is gorgeous, and is certainly a piece of art for the wrist. C’est tres Magnifique!
Photographed in the VC Boutique in Ion Orchard. Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro and HC 2.8/80 + H26 Extension Tube. Profoto strobes.