In 2015, the Métiers d’Art collection pays an elegant tribute to the traditional engraving of Haute Horlogerie movements. To exalt the beauty of the two iconic in-house movements, Calibers 2260 and 4400 have been adorned with floral motifs inspired by ancient jewellery. Reflecting the finest ornamental traditions, these scrolling motifs and arabesques are hand-engraved on functional parts.
Epitomising these traditional decors, the acanthus leaf appearing on these two movements is a characteristic ornamental element in classic Greek architecture. Its earliest representations date back to the fifth century BC, when it adorned the capitals of Corinthian columns. A symbol of eternity, victory and glory, this refined plant-life motif has found its way through the centuries, expressed in a rich variety of fields including engraving, marquetry, embroidery and painting. Its distinctive curves thus adorn a number of pocket-watch movements at the heart of the Vacheron Constantin heritage. Subsequently a number of calibers developed by the Manufacture have been graced with some remarkable hand-crafted decorations.
While the extremely malleable acanthus leaf motif gives artists from all horizons almost boundless scope for expression, engraving the functional parts of an Haute Horlogerie movement is a delicate task. Eager to magnify two benchmark calibers and to demonstrate the talent of its gifted artisans, Vacheron Constantin made the demanding choice of maintaining the movement composition exactly as usual. This means that no part to be engraved has been made any thicker to facilitate the task of the engraver, who must therefore sculpt surfaces that are less than one millimetre thick.
In addition to the challenge of miniaturisation, this delicate work consists in engraving motifs on parts that have been previously bevelled, straight-grained, circular-grained and polished by the decorative artisans of the Manufacture. Using a tool known as a chisel, he first marks out a line engraving to define the contours of the motif. He then conscientiously removes a certain amount of material using the champlevé technique. This operation that involves hollowing to a depth of 2/10 of a millimetre serves to create a volume effect and brings out the raised motif. This technique, entailing more than ten days spent engraving a single caliber, reveals an contrast between the brilliance of the polished motifs and the matt appearance of the other surfaces. A subtly patinated anthracite colour is finely wrought with a tiny pointed tip, enhancing the volumes and relief effects.
Set off within a 41 mm-diameter round case in 950 platinum featuring a concave bezel that intensifies its finesse, the engraved 2660/1 caliber is a mechanical hand-wound tourbillon movement with a 14-day power reserve. Its slightly off-centred hour and minute functions highlight the tourbillon carriage, coupled with a small seconds display. The power reserve is read off with a “dragging” or “trailing” hand that displays the remaining energy on a 280° sector. This larger surface than on traditional indicators enables a precise division into 14 days, themselves split into two 12-hour portions, thus enhancing the readability of the power reserve.
The architecture of the 231-part movement features two large bridges, delicately hand-engraved with floral motifs and acanthus leaves, and visible through the sapphire crystal back of the case which is water-resistant to 30 metres. On the display side, the Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Gravées – 14-day tourbillon provides a view of the tourbillon carriage shaped like a Maltese Cross. Swept over by anthracite-toned white gold hands and composed of two distinct parts, the sapphire crystal dial features frosted zones ensuring perfect readability of the engraved and inked small seconds and power-reserve graduations, while a slate grey ring bears the minute circle and a white gold Maltese cross.
Only available in Vacheron Constantin boutiques, this timepiece bears the Hallmark of Geneva.