Since it was founded in 1755, Vacheron Constantin has built its identity on the craft tradition and the pursuit of excellence. Behind the skills handed down from generation to generation lie human endeavours, undertaken daily by the manufacture's craftsmen and women as they combine their talents. Beyond being an instrument to measure and indicate the time, a Vacheron Constantin watch mirrors the culture of its era and its history. The intense relationship forged between the watch manufacturer and artistic crafts – métiers d'art – is fully expressed in the eponymous collection, which aims to put the fundamental values of Vacheron Constantin in their true perspective.
This year, and for the first time in this exceptional collection, a new opus called Métiers d'Art Florilège has been created exclusively for women. This trilogy pays a vibrant tribute to the delicacy of English botanical illustration in the 19th century. The plants, taken from Robert John Thornton's The Temple of Flora, published in 1799, grow over the dials of watches that combine the artistic crafts of enamelling, guillochage and gem-setting.
The Temple of Flora remains a work of reference more than two centuries after it was published.
Consisting of almost 90 plates, his ambitious project surpassed anything that had been published before. Thornton, a physician, had a passionate interest in botany, elevated to a science a few decades earlier by Carl Linnaeus's taxonomy based on plant morphology. As a follower of Linnaeus, Thornton created his own work in tribute to the great Swedish scientist. He spared no pains in the production of his book, commissioning the top botanical illustrators and painters of the time, such as Peter Henderson, Philip Reinagle and Abraham Pether, as well as the best plate engravers in London. The coloured engravings are not only of interest to historians of botany but to art historians as well. Mezzotint prints that achieve variable tonal intensities of colour, and aquatints, a type of acid etching, are sometimes coloured by hand. Drawn in great detail, the plants flourish against exotic or European landscapes, or in the ordered calm of the pre-romantic English countryside of the 19th century. The result is intriguing. The meticulous drawing has a certain innocence and the harmony of colour retains a freshness that continues to draw the eye today.
To celebrate the cultural legacy of this work, Vacheron Constantin drew upon the unique expertise of it craftsmen and of Anita Porchet, an independent artist specialising in miniatures in fired enamels, Geneva style. The artwork, reproduced in guilloché engravings and Grand Feu cloisonné enamels, comes to life in a profusion of colour. Each dial gives an illusion of amazing depth and perspective, highlighted by a bezel set with diamonds.
The realism is equally amazing. The craftsmen have brought together their skills to reproduce the flowers in their smallest detail. In a first stage, the engine-turner cuts lines a tenth of a millimetre apart to create an expanding symmetrical pattern, combining an artist's sensitivity with a delicacy of touch. Then the enameller outlines the shapes in thin enclosures of gold that separate the different fields of coloured enamels, according to the cloisonné technique. The enamels are then fired in an oven at around 800°. This is a delicate operation that the enameller repeats several times to deepen to colour and to let the light play through the translucent enamel. The final step is a last layer of colourless enamel, similarly vitrified and polished to preserve the flower in brilliant definition.
The three Métiers d'Art Florilège models are fitted with mechanical manual-winding calibre 4400, developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin. The time they record with such dependable regularity is one of poetic reflection. The big mainspring barrel gives the movement a power reserve of around 65 hours. One distinctive feature is its 12½-ligne diameter (28.5mm), suited to today's watchcases. Light moves the Côtes de Genève in waves across the bridges to show off the workmanship that goes into this outstanding calibre. The bridges, baseplate and other components are bevelled and decorated by hand on all their surfaces even if they are assembled out of sight. Leather straps in feminine colours bring the watches to graceful perfection.
The Métiers d'Art Florilège is a limited series of 20 collector's watches with the bezel set with round-cut diamonds and 5 more with the bezel set with baguette-cut diamonds for the Vacheron Constantin Boutiques. They all bear the Hallmark of Geneva. Institutionalised by the parliament of the Republic and Canton of Geneva in 1886, the hallmark is an umbrella guarantee of provenance, workmanship, durability and skill. Once independent, this unmatched label of quality was thoroughly overhauled in 2011. The certification no longer applies to just the movement, but now to the watch as a whole. This is a major milestone for this hallmark of authenticity that has long had Vacheron Constantin's support.
Métiers d'Art Florilège – Queen watchThe strelitzia plant from South Africa reached the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1773. The director of these famous English gardens, Sir Joseph Banks – to whom Francis Masson, having sailed with James Cook, brought back the flower – named it thus in tribute to the queen of England who came from the Mecklemburg-Strelitz ducal family. A symbol of loyalty and good luck, the strelizia gracefully alights on the dial of the Métiers d'Art Florilège watch. The different guilloché patterns attest to the artistic sensibilities of the artisan. The brilliant enamel colours add depth to the dial to achieve an uncanny realism.
Métiers d'Art Florilège – White Lily watchThe Virgin's lily, to which Thornton devotes the 20th plate of his work, is one of those flowers that people have always appreciated. Symbols of purity and virtue, these radiantly white large trumpet-shaped blooms have accompanied the most wonderful stories, from the Byzantine empire to French royalty. To accentuate the splendour of the flower, the artist who worked on Thornton's plate chose a dark background, a feature reproduced on the dial of the watch. The pistils, depicted in the minutest detail, seem to be about to move, while the soft lustre of the petals, highlighted by the finely guilloché pattern, draws light into the enamel.
Métiers d'Art Florilège – China Limodoron watchIn China, it symbolises wealth and refinement. As soon as it arrived in England in 1778, its extravagant nature, its originality and its exotic origins immediately aroused exceptional interest among botanical enthusiasts who jostled to be among the first to own such a gem. People have always been fascinated by the distinctive shape and the intense colour of this orchid with its evergreen leaves. A soft tranquillity emanates from this dial, stemming from the exquisite delicacy of the fiery red flowers that create a striking contrast with the creamy tints and make a strong match for the bright green hue of the stalk.