IT’S COMPLICATED

The astonishing new novelties by world-class watchmaker Vacheron Constantin.

In Singapore, inside one of the city’s historic colonial black-and-white bungalows, Vacheron Constantin quietly unveiled 15 new one-of-a-kind novelty watches. In homage to the musical arts, the new collection, ‘La Musique du Temps’ employs both handcrafts and complications – from fine engraving and enameling to tourbillon and perpetual calendars – to celebrate music.

Chiming watches occupy a vernerated place among horological complications. For more than two centuries these complex mechanisms have been a focus for Vacheron Constantin. Now its bespoke division, Les Cabinotiers, has chosen to pay tribute to them.

Born from the need to tell the time in the dark in an age when people had to rely on candlelight, ‘audible’ watches have taken various forms: repeaters (indicating the hours and sometimes the quarters and minutes on request), sonnerie (striking) watches (indicating the hours and quarters in passing) and alarms (which can be programmed to ring at specific times). While each of these complications has its own distinctive characteristics, they all combine an integrated and complex mechanism with as finely crafted a nature as musical instruments, in terms of their resonance, acoustics and harmonics. Featuring watch cases equipped with complex movements as their only means of musical expression, these creations represent a magnificent feat of miniaturisation.

The collection includes a set called Four Seasons, each using fine enamel and bas-relief engraving depicting a carp in spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There is one called the “Minute Repeater Tourbillon Sky Chart – A Celestial Note”, featuring a skychart of the Milky Way on its back. La Caravelle 1950 features an enameled ship; Symphonia Grande Sonnerie is cast in yellow gold, with bas-relief engraving of the score for Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony along its sides; and Minute Repeater Utra-Thin – The Dance of the Gemstones” is set with diamonds and a mix of square and baguette rubies. And, as part of an ongoing partnership with Abbey Road Studios, a name closely associated with iconic artists such as The Beatles, Adele and Oasis, the repeater watches from the ‘La Musique du Temps’ range have a unique sound imprint, recorded at and certified by the studio.

Q: So firstly, I’m interested to know, how do you preserve 255 years of watchmaking excellence?

A: I think, my job is to act a bit like the guardian of the temple. If I look back through history at the watches we’ve made, I think there is always a certain classicism, tremendous refinement, incredible sophistication and also a great deal of balance. These style elements are very important and must be present in the products we’re producing today. My job is to make sure that all these elements are present.

Q: Les Cabinotiers is the House’s department of wonders, where all the bespoke pieces get created, and is also home to the Metiers d’Art, a group of incredible masters of craft. How do you continue to find exceptional craftsmen?

A: You attract people by different means. I think that if you’re providing such people a kind of a playground in which they can immerse themselves and be creative, I think that makes them happy. When I was artistic director, I used to work very much on our Metiers d’Art collections. As an example, I had a book on very special flowers and I had the idea of doing something with these flowers. So I approached the craftsmen and asked them to see what they could do with it. After one week, they came back with various proposals, and I think that’s the way you make craftsmen happy.

Q: Throughout the history of the brand, there is a thread of references to space, astrology, the universe. Why are those so dear to the brand?

A: I love that question, and to answer that, we have to go back to the origins of watchmaking – what are they? Why was watchmaking invented? The sun lets us know that it is day, and the moon that it is night. Those, and the stars in the sky, let us know the seasons. And for people, the seasons are so important – when do I have to harvest? When do I have to plant seeds? Everything is written in the stars. Everything. So that’s watchmaking. That’s why astronomical complications are so important. And to me, astronomical complications are the precious link between us and what is above us – the cosmos. Some people would call it God, and some Allah. The cosmos is spiritual. We connect with it.

Q: Today most brands are struggling to find the right craftsmen and to keep them. Some of them are even creating schools to teach the new generations how to master these complications, or how to embroider for couture.

A: We don’t have schools, but we have our in-house workshop where we nurture our craftsmen, and we’re integrating more and more craftsmen into our team. We also work with external craftsmen and artists, but I think these crafts have always been rare. And so as a consequence, I think the craftsmen themselves are rare. So we have to accept that.

Q: I want to understand more about Les Cabinotiers. It’s an atelier separate from the atelier of Vacheron Constantin?

A: Yes, absolutely. The watchmakers are engineers, project leaders; they are dedicated to Les Cabinotiers – they have their own structure, their own offices. They are separated from the rest of the manufacturer.

Q: Let’s say I’m a collector today – what is the process if I come to the Vacheron boutique and I say I would like a special watch, something unique?

A: So first of all, we would ask you to talk with the specialists of Les Cabinotiers. Then the most important part would be the design, which takes some time. Let’s say I am a designer – you will tell me, “Christian, I would like a round watch; I would like that watch to have a tourbillon at six o’clock; I would like that watch to be open-worked; and I have a dog, which is my best friend – I would like to have an enamel image of my dog at 12 o’clock, etcetera. I will take into consideration all of your requests and I will put together a proposal. This is how we work. Once we agree on the final rendering of the product, we sign an agreement, we develop the watch.

Q: We learned that there are as many as 57 horological complications in one Les Cabinotiers. Describe some of them, if you can.

A: In one, yes, 57 in one pocketwatch, which is the most complicated watch ever made in history. A true masterpiece. We have grand sonnerie, we have a split-seconds chronograph, we have a perpetual Gregorian calendar, we have perpetual Hebrew calendar, we have a sunrise and sunset indication, we have equation of time... and so many more.

Q: How do you communicate with the younger generations? How do they relate to high- watchmaking when everybody now is relating to their iPhone. ?

A: For us, the key word is ‘authenticity’. We are very authentic from a watchmaking perspective, and this is what our youngest clients appreciate in us – the fact that we are true, honorable, and authentic.

Q: Many of the big luxury brands today are struggling to reach the younger generations, so they’re trying to make the brand ‘cooler’. Do you foresee a collection that is more accessible to the younger generation or you will always keep it at that very high level?

A: We don’t want to, and actually we don’t need to. We can’t stretch our DNA to that point. No way. No way.

Q: And my last question, what’s your favorite Sorbet? Think about it.

A: Blackcurrant.

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