Why do watches look more like pieces of jewellery? When did mere time-telling devices witch gears? The blame or credit for this can be attributed to Jean Calvin of France, the Roman Catholic pastor who banished wearing of decorative and ostentatious objects, such as jewellery in the 16th century. This was the time of religious wars. To subvert this ridiculous rule, the goldsmiths and watchmakersintegrated their talents, since watches were exempt from the ban. Goldsmiths revelled in this new field for expressing their art, and thus began an era for luxury watch-making.
The timepieces that were not only technical but also precious would later earn the Fabrique genevoise its international renown. Thecabinotiersen listed the talents of jewellers and enamellers, creating authentic and splendidly elegant models embodying a fruitful dialogue with various artistic currents and influences. Impelled by dreams of far-off lands and a determination to remain open to the world, Vacheron Constantin has been cultivating a strong attachment to these artistic crafts throughout its almost260 years of existence.
In celebration of this long journey, Vacheron Constantin is holding a new themed exhibition, dedicated to the history of horological adornments. It sets the stage for around 40 historical models – chosen from the1,200 composing the private collection of the Manufacture – illustrating various major artistic movements. A tour that testifies to masterful gestures and abundant creativity rarely equalled in the field of decorative arts, a hallmark of the Geneva school. On the first floor of the Maison Vacheron Constantin on the Quai de l’Ile in Geneva,the display windows are organised around four different universes: the East, Greece, Europe, and finally the open worked architecture of the late 19th century. Wristwatches, but above all pocket watches, immerse us unto a rediscovery of the beauty and finesse of the world’s many adornments. While the various enamelling techniques play a role worthy of the complexity involved in applying them, engraving, guillochage, gemsetting and glyptic art are also well represented.
The visit begins in the East, with India and a delicatechamplevé enamel pocket watch dating from 1831, inspired by the flamboyant style of an enamelled floral tapestry. A little further on, one discovers the splendours of Ottoman decors with an 1824 pocket watch featuring a case richly adorned with an exuberantly chased floral motif enhanced with appliqués engraved using the pounced ornament technique and embellished with turquoises and amethysts – composing a dense yet subtle ornamentation. Still in Asia, blossoming cherry tree spreads its branches across a very light green jade case studded with a few diamonds. Exquisite delicacy….
We then change continent and the generous source of inspiration to be found in ancient Greece. In 1921, the artisans of Vacheron Constantin notably reproduced a central champlevé enamel motif depicting Hermès on his chariot, rimmed with a Hellenistic-style frieze. On another creation, platinum lacework criss-crosses the translucent enamel protecting a hand-guilloché décor. A stunningly ethereal composition echoing the grand tradition of French lace making….
Art Deco was a momentous period with its two-tone colouring, its geometrical shapes, its baguette-cut precious stones or its semi-preciousonyx, lapis lazuli and coral… A fresh breeze of stylistic renewal blew across Europe in the early 20th century.
The exhibition ends with a series of skeleton watches representing a reference to industrial architecture.Metal and transparency, finesse and airiness: ultra-thin calibres are hollowed out to retain only essentials and to allow the light to shine through – a spectacularly delicate exercise, of which Vacheron Constantin has proved itself an admirable exponent.
Right from the time of its founding in 1755, the Manufacture has constantly enhanced its creations by providing scope for the expression of artistic crafts, orchestrated by artisans with golden fingers and skilled gestures governed by a blend of patience and dexterity. This exhibition not only reveals unique skills, but also demonstrates that ornamental techniques are at the crossroads of various cultures and come together at the heart of horological works of art. “Travels & Adornments” presents 47 miniature works of art that are all too rarely admired and which prove the richness of the collections. They evoke a field that is inseparable from that of Haute Horlogerie both past and present: the artisanship that exercises such a lasting fascination on devotees of fine objects.
Travels & Adornments exhibition, until the end of October 2014
Maison Vacheron Constantin, 7 Quai de l’Ile, 1204 Geneva
By appointment only, tel : 022.930.20.05