Ornamentation in watchmaking is much more than a mere fashion phenomenon. In the 16th century already, during the wars of religion, the wearing of decorative and ostentatious objects was banished by Jean Calvin – a decision that led goldsmiths to seek new fields of expression for their art, since watches were not regarded as jewellery. From then onwards, luxury watchmaking enjoyed a new lease on life and began offering timepieces that were not only technical but also precious, and would later earn the Fabrique genevoise its international renown. The cabinotiers enlisted 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 260 years of existence.
Housed within the Heritage Room of the Vacheron Constantin ION Orchard boutique in Singapore, the display showcases are organised around four different universes: the East, Greece, Europe, and finally the openworked 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 delicate champlevé 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 appliques engraved using the pounced ornament technique and embellished with turquoises and amethysts – composing a dense yet subtle ornamentation. Still in Asia, a 1925 lady’s brooch watch in yellow gold case is adorned with Japanese-inspired decoration in diamonds, rubies, coral, mother-of-pearl and black enamel.
We then change continent and the generous source of inspiration to be found in ancient Greece. In 1913, the artisans of Vacheron Constantin notably produced a tonneau-shaped gentleman’s wristwatch with an enamalled Greek-style pattern on the bezel. 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 lacemaking.
Art Deco was a momentous period with its two-tone colouring, its geometrical shapes, its baguette-cut precious stones or its semi-precious onyx, 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. “Voyage & Ornaments” presents 14 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.
Voyage & Ornaments exhibition, from 20 August - 30 September 2015
Vacheron Constantin Boutique, #02-07 ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn.
Tel: +65 6509 8800