All You Need To Know About Vacheron Constantin's Mécaniques Sauvages Series
If indeed watchmaking is an art (and we’d certainly argue that’s the case), then the cabinotier could be its old master. The moniker for these outstanding craftspeople—true Renaissance men, profoundly skilled in watchmaking but also steeped in the disciplines of contemporary and classical art, science and philosophy—derives from the workspaces they inhabited in the 18th century.
The naturally lit rooftop ateliers where these artisans laboured over unique and bespoke timepieces were known as cabinets. And from these cabinets continue to emerge creations of rare beauty, imagination and craftsmanship.
Since the manufacture’s foundation in 1755, Vacheron Constantin—the oldest watchmaker in continuous operation—has set numerous cabinotiers to work in sun-drenched eyries above Geneva to bring to life clients’ extraordinary wishes and whims. Formalising the manufacture’s longstanding bespoke service, Vacheron Constantin launched more than a decade ago an arm named Atelier Cabinotiers which provides clients with the opportunity to customise a watch’s case, movement and complications, dial and hands, and its strap or bracelet.
Undoubtedly the most legendary piece to result from this offering is the Reference 57260, a pocket watch boasting 57 horological complications. It was created over eight years by three master watchmakers at the behest of a major collector who, for now at least, wishes to remain anonymous. The most complicated mechanical timepiece created to date, this magnificent piece was delivered in 2015 and is estimated to have cost in the vicinity of US$10 million.
The latest wonders to issue from the hands and minds of Vacheron Constantin’s cabinotiers come in the form of a series dubbed Mécaniques Sauvages. Each a pièce unique (one of a kind), the watches celebrate the majesty and grace of noble beasts, including serpents, lions and tigers, eagles and falcons, and the great panda. Vacheron Constantin says these creatures “convey the values of the maison: tradition and innovation, craftsmanship, hand finishing, extreme care for details, as well as elegance.”
The manufacture hopes the individual Les Cabinotiers examples detailed below—each borne on an alligator leather strap and packaged in a Makassar ebony wood box alongside a complementary magnifying glass (to enable the workmanship to be properly appreciated)—will inspire further bespoke commissions that will test the skills and creativity of their inventive cabinotiers to their limits.
1/5 14-Day Tourbillon Lion
Male lions, of the sort depicted in gorgeous 18K gold-covered grand feu enamel on this timepiece’s dial, are in fact rather indolent creatures, letting the females of the pride do much of the work of hunting prey. This particular lion, however, couldn’t ever be accused of lacking energy or endurance.
No slouch, it possesses an astounding power reserve of 14 days—some 336 hours. The beauty of the handsomely rendered feline is rivalled by the Maltese Cross-shaped tourbillon visible at six o’clock, while hand-engraved ornamental patterns across the 42mm rose-gold case and bezel add further flourish to this pièce unique, ensuring it will long remain the “mane” attraction in a collector’s cache.
2/5 Armillary Tourbillon Snake
Blending the natural and mechanical, retro and futuristic, the double-axis Armillary Tourbillon was given that name thanks to the complication’s resemblance to the armillary sphere, a model of celestial objects used since ancient times. This watch’s unusual layout sees the tourbillon occupy the entire left side of the dial, while retrograde hour and minute timekeeping is rendered in a semi-circle on the right.
The 45mm rose-gold case is embellished with an engraved snake coiling across the flanks, surrounding the manual-winding movement Calibre 1990, which boasts a 65-hour power reserve. The movement was derived from that of the aforementioned 57-complication Reference 57260 pocket watch, and an astonishing six patents have been filed in relation to this timepiece.
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3/5 Calibre 2755 Eagle
In a 45mm rose-gold case, this exquisite timepiece features a formidable seven complications: minute repeater, tourbillon, power reserve indication and perpetual calendar (date, day of the week, month and leap year). Readings are displayed via an elegant blue, guilloche-finished dial with applied markers and an expansive aperture through which to admire the tourbillon.
The case is no less intricate than the workings of the manual-winding Calibre 2755 movement carried within, bearing a remarkably detailed depiction of an eagle on its flanks. Hand-engraving the sculpted bird of prey takes Vacheron Constantin’s artisans a cumulative month in man hours. That this work requires an eagle eye and a talented talon goes without saying.
4/5 Grisaille Falcon
One of the more restrained pieces in the Mécaniques Sauvages collection, this classic 40mm white-gold watch depicts a proud falcon, beautifully rendered in 18K gold-covered grand feu translucent and grisaille enamelling that plays in stark relief to the dial’s inky black background. Hours, minutes and seconds are tracked with elegant simplicity by three white-gold hands. With the same enamelling techniques and dimensions, a pink-gold companion piece depicting the profile of a rhinoceros has also been produced.
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5/5 Calibre 2560 G4 Iterations
Vacheron Constantin’s Calibre 2460 G4 seems designed to facilitate artistic expression. The automatic-winding movement displays the hours, minutes, day and date in apertures placed around the dial’s periphery, presenting an ample canvas for the artisan to showcase his imagination and craft in the dial’s centre. Taking full advantage of this opportunity, on one example from the Mécaniques Sauvages series, a hand-engraved white-gold tiger is shown emerging from a yellow-gold bamboo forest, a 40mm platinum case serving as this artwork’s frame.
Additional 41mm iterations use miniature wood marquetry to form the leafy backdrop for bas relief engravings of tigers in white, yellow and pink gold. Meanwhile, another pure marquetry version features the charming face of a wild panda on its dial.
All watches in the collection, many of which have already been acquired by Vacheron Constantin aficionados, are fastened to the wrist with a strap hewn from the hide of another awesome creature, the American alligator. All also carry the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva certification—not to mention an undeniable air of distinction.
This article first appeared on hk.asiatatler.com.