Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak is a blessing and a curse. Ever since the Gerald Genta-designed timepiece found fame and fortune, the Royal Oak has defined the brand. Ditto Patek Philippe’s Gentabulous Nautilus. Vacheron doesn’t wear a brand straightjacket – the Swiss watchmaker sells a wide range of not-so-signature styles. Their Métiers d’Art watches crank it up to 11 . . .
Vacheron’s artisans really pushed the boat out with their Les Univers Infini collection. The three watches above aren’t on Vacheron’s Métiers d’Art webpage. They dropped into the public purview via the video below.
All three Les Univers Infini (The Infinite Universes) watches use tessellation: an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping. Paving, basically.
They’re all based on the perspective-messing work of M. C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist who made “mathematically-inspired” woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. (No drugs were used in the making of his images. In the consuming? Definitely.)
Here’s the clock that inspired Vacheron’s Dove Watch. The video says it’s from “the artist’s studio.” This is not the design you’d find in college dorms in 70’s and 80’s (see: Relativity above).
The three bird mélange is an odd choice, even within Esher’s more laid-back portfolio. Esher was primarily fascinated by two-bird (or other animals) interwoven patterns. Not to mention the fact that some of the birds in the clock design seem to be busy procreating.
Vacheron modified the design to avoid the sexual subtext. To make sure watch isn’t mistaken for a cheap print (e.g., the Donald Trump watch), to attract ladies who lunch, Vacheron’s gemsetter filled one of the bird outlines with 37 diamonds.
In terms of finishing, the watch was an immense challenge. Each hand-decorated bird had to be identical in size, shape and color. Whether you consider the Dove Watch a fitting homage to an artist who was irritated by flat shapes, or a tacky rip-off, the world class workmanship is there for all to see.
That goes double for Vacheron’s “Fish Watch.” It’s hard to believe that human hands created the three-dimensional perfection of the fish scales, but they did. One at a time.
In the screengrab above, the Fish face looks a bit muted, color-wise (as opposed to this). But as the watch turns towards the light . . .
We can see it’s a highly legible watch with perfectly judged and endlessly elegant skeletonized hands.
Literally translating into ‘Great Fire’, this enamelling starts with coating copper plates in layers of oxides. Then, the dials are heated in a large oven at 800-900℃ to bind the enamel to the disc. This process is repeated until several layers of enamel create the desired thickness and finish.
A large flame erupts in the oven each time the alcohol burns off, which explains how this technique got its name. Only then are the dials sent for marking – a delicate process that requires separate firing for every colour applied.
Like cloisonné, the champlevé method artfully segments a dial. Unlike cloisonné, champlevé achieves this by first carving a metal dial. These spaces are then filled in with enamel, fired to melting point, then cooled and polished. The resulting effect is colourful or patterned raised fields (that’s what champlevé means), with the uncarved portion framing various enamel designs.
The Shell Watch is the timepiece that best reflects and creates the mind-f*ck that is M. C. Esher’s work. Only Humism’s Rhizome does it better.
Vacheron Constantin doesn’t have a grail watch like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. That’s a blessing, not a curse. As the Métiers d’Art Les Univers Infinis demonstrate, as Janice Joplin reminded us, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.