News August 2008

Four years after inaugurating its first series, Vacheron Constantin presents two new models, this time paying tribute to Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus.

Métiers d’Art
Tribute to Great Explorers

Respect for Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus

The Watch Quote™ - August 26th, 2008

Vacheron Constantin "Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers" — Christophe Colomb & Marco Polo

In 2004, when Vacheron Constantin inaugurated the limited series of watches created in honour of the great explorers, the Geneva-based brand was displaying a fierce determination to ensure the continuity of one of its most fundamental values: the workmanship traditions involved in fine watchmaking “metiers d’art” – or artistic crafts.

Vacheron Constantin’s deep-felt commitment to highlighting the value of these decorative arts now continues with a magnificent demonstration of the expertise faithfully ultivated by the world’s oldest watch manufacturer for the past 250 years.

Clearly dedicated to excellence, Vacheron Constantin once again unveils two genuine works of art from both mechanical and aesthetic standpoints, thanks to a patented movement driving an astonishing reading of time and a dial sublimated by the extremely complex and time-honoured art of “grand feu” enamelling. An accomplishment worthy of those achieved by the great explorers of past centuries who, by risking their lives as they journeyed across land and sea, contributed to the advancement of Humankind.


Respect for Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus

After the two first models in the collection dedicated to the Chinese admiral Zheng Hé, the intrepid Ming dynasty explorer and his Indian Ocean discoveries; and to Magellan with his discovery of the strait bearing his name, Vacheron Constantin pays a glowing tribute to two of the most famous world travellers: Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus.

Vacheron Constantin "Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers" — Christophe Colomb & Marco Polo

These two exceptional timepieces, entirely hand-crafted with patience and passion, meticulous care and a desire for perfection, are in harmony with the spirit of the Geneva “Cabinotiers” cherished by the brand founders. The demanding nature of the work entailed justifies the limited edition of 60 for each model.
Stemming from the emblematic “Métiers d’Art” line, the exclusive mechanism of these models calls for unusual devices incorporated within an exceptional dial depicting the amazing voyage of these great adventurers who set off in quest of the unknown. A mysterious journey in which time is not counted but instead savoured, like an inestimably precious asset. A legacy.


A dial in two separate parts, on two different levels

Transposing the voyage of the world’s greatest explorers onto a watch dial was the astounding technical and aesthetic challenge taken up by the Geneva-based watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin.

The “grand feu” polychrome enamelled dial consists of two parts, with one partially overlapping the other.

The upper part depicts a portion of the globe by reproducing an historical map relating to the feats of the great explorer.

The twelve hour numerals move across a 132° minute scale on the lower part of the dial of this mysterious watch embodying the finest horological traditions and featuring a truly stunning complication.


A Vacheron Constantin movement that makes time travel

Pushing their know-how to new frontiers of excellence, the engineers and watchmakers of the Manufacture have developed a complication which, thanks to the extreme reliability of the self-winding movement equipped with Vacheron Constantin Calibre 1126AT, sends time sailing in the cartographical wake of these intrepid adventurers.

At the heart of the watch lies a highly sophisticated and patented mechanism driving both parts of the dial thanks to a number of highly sophisticated devices linked by cams shaped like the brand-signature Maltese cross.

Pivoting crown, positioning fingerpieces, numeral-bearing rotating satellites: all these exclusive devices developed by the in-house engineers ensure an entirely original reading of time. The hour wheel features three arms extended by a satellite. Each carries four hour numerals, pointed in a direction determined by a Maltese cross-shaped cam. The hour crown turns in such a way as to line up the satellite bearing the appropriate hour number in front of the gap between the two parts of the dial. The Maltese cross-shaped cam then moves the appropriate number into the gap and the hour crown then makes it move from left to right in exactly one hour over the minute scale on the lower dial.

Thus steadily counting off the time, the hours journey to the far end of the upper dial facing its lower half, transforming the hour numeral into a symbolic hand specifying the number of minutes at a glance. The resulting magical dance of the hours is based on an ingenious configuration that called for a considerable amount of research and development.

This journey of time through time is a powerful metaphor of the long, difficult and often risky voyages undertaken by the great explorers in order to quench their thirst for discovery.


The time-honoured art of “Grand feu” enamelling

The limited series of “Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers” gives pride of place to “grand feu” enamelling, one of the oldest and most remarkable hand craftsmanship traditions of Haute Horlogerie.

This noble craft, consistently cultivated by the Manufacture Vacheron Constantin, has become so rare that only a few artisans worldwide can claim to master its secrets. This traditional art is indeed characterised by its daunting complexity and exquisite delicacy.

The enamelling process consists in adding the colours composing a motif dot by dot with a fine-tipped brush, beginning with the outlines. Each application of this coloured glass paste calls for extremely rigorous and accurate gestures, before placing the dial for a few minutes in a kiln heated to a temperature of between 700 and 700 degrees Celsius.

Once cooled down, the enamel is then sanded down – but gently so as not to spoil the effect. During the firing in the oven, the colours may change and even shrink. The skill and experience of the enamel artist thus play an essential role in the procedure, at the end of which a translucent flux or protective lawyer is applied to the motif before a final firing at 900°C, followed by lapping and final polishing.

Each new colour application implies the same set of operations, and the piece may be fired as many as 30 times in all.

It is here that the difficulty of this ancestral art becomes most clearly apparent. Totally unpredictable by nature, “grand feu” enamelling can wipe out in an instant the patient, meticulous work of the artist creating it.

Occasionally rebellious and consistently capricious, enamel requires cautious and progressive cooling to room temperature so as to avoid any tensions that might prove destructive to the point of causing the work of art to literally “explode”. A single slip-up can result in irreversible damage and oblige the craftsman to began all over again.


The exquisite specific work on the dials
of the “Métiers d’Art Tribute to the Great Explorers” models

In the case of the dials in the “Métiers d’Art Tribute to the Great Explorers” collection, the two parts must be enamelled at the same time in order to ensure they are fully matched: the same colours, the same firing time, the same radiance. The hand-crafted nature of the task makes each execution and each dial a truly unique work of art.

But every sacrifice brings its reward and for the enameller, that means a creation literally bordering on perfection. Thus associated with the watchmaking art, this traditional craft reveals the full measure of its prodigious stature. The result is all the more striking, in that the detailed geographical depiction of the routes sailed by the great explorers is graced by superbly nuanced shades of colour ranging from the pale blue of the seas to the orangey ochre of dry land. A spectacular feat expressing a wealth of meticulous care.

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Vacheron Constantin
“Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers”

Christophe Colomb & Marco Polo


References:47070/000J-9085 (Christopher Columbus)
47070/000J-9086 (Marco Polo)
Production:Limited series of 60 for each explorer.
Case - diameter and height :18-carat yellow gold, 40 mm, 12.21 mm
Dial:22-carat gold two-part base
Polychrome “Grand feu” enamelled decoration.
Entirely hand-crafted in the traditional manner.
  • Marco Polo model - His journey from 1271 to 1295 across Central Asia.
  • Christopher Colombus model - His journey from 1492 to 1493 from Huelva to San Salvador and his discovery of America.
Movement:1126 AT, self-winding, with additional mobile hour display mechanism across a 120° scale
Movement thickness:6.25 mm
Movement diameter:26 mm
Jewelling:36 jewels
Frequency:28,800 vibrations/hour
Indications:Time indicated by Arabic numerals mounted on satellite-wheels. Each digit appears in its turn, then moves above the minute-sector before disappearing as the next digit makes its appearance.
Power reserve:Approximately 40 hours.
Water resistance:Tested to a pressure of 3 Atm, equivalent to 30 metres.
Strap:Hand-sewn, square-scale brown alligator leather.
Buckle:Folding clasp in 18-carat yellow gold.
Polished half Maltese cross.

Marco Polo (1254 – 1324)

On the Silk Road

Vacheron Constantin "Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers" — Marco Polo

Profoundly influenced by the passion for exploration of his father, a Venetian merchant who set off to conquer the Asian market, Marco Polo was just 17 years’ old when he began his lengthy expedition to the Far East, becoming one of the first Westerners to take the famous Silk Road.

In accompanying his father and his uncle in search of the spices and precious fabrics of the Middle Empire, Marco Polo could not have imagined that his journey would have such a powerful impact on human understanding of the world. In 1271, the Polo family left Venice with the mission of opening up a route towards the East in order to promote trading prospects. The explorers sailed to the Crimea, where they began the lengthy crossing of Armenia, Persia and Afghanistan, along the Silk Road. Journeying parallel to the Caspian Sea and discovering the Gobi desert, they finally reached the north-western edge of China after four years of tireless exploration.

It was there, amid this huge Asian land, that Marco Polo made a decisive discovery. The travellers met the Emperor Kubilai Khan, who then reigned supreme over the entire Mongol territories. The grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of China’s Yuan dynasty, the Mongol emperor invited the explorers to settle in his kingdom. Marco Polo was to stay there for 16 years. Appointed administrator of a province and entrusted with numerous missions, the Venetian adventurer made several trips across the country, enabling him to draw up a reliable map of its geography.

Longing to return to their home country, the Polo family was granted permission to leave China to escort a Princess to Persia. After keeping their promise, they crossed Armenia to Trezibond and on via Constantinople home to Italy.

They had been away for 25 years. Marco Polo provided a written account of his fantastic expedition which was published in a work entitled the Book of Marvels. An historical and geographical description of Asia boasting a level of precision and exactness that was truly extraordinary in its day – and of which the full range of observations have since been confirmed by modern discoveries. Over the centuries, it was to inspire many an explorer to set off to conquer the world, including a certain Christopher Columbus…

Christophe Colomb (1451 – 1506)

The discovery of the Americas

Vacheron Constantin "Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers" — Christophe Colomb

Acknowledged as the finest navigator of all time, Christopher Columbus is universally known for his discovery of America. And yet the most symbolic of the explorers involved in the age of great discoveries died convinced that he had landed in the Indies and thereby achieved the goal to which he had dedicated his life.

It was in 1484 that the navigator from Genoa undertook to cross the Atlantic to reach the Indies. Born in 1451, Cristiforo Colombo planned to become a wool trader, the profession practiced by his father. However, as a fervent admirer of the ships that criss-crossed the Mediterranean to land in the port of Genoa, the young man could not help dreaming of sailing away to discover unknown lands.

His dream came true thanks to the Centurioni brothers, the famous bankers of the republic of Genoa. They saw in him the intrepid mariner they were looking for in order to extend their trading activities beyond the seas. Christopher Columbus soon acquired a mastery of maritime science, becoming passionately interested in cartography and cosmography. During his long voyages, he studied the work of Ptolemy, which convinced him of the spherical nature of the earth and its seas.

The navigator thus got it into his head that there must be a body of land to the west, for how else could one explain the strange phenomenon of the tides? Better still, based on his deductive abilities, Colombus convinced himself of the existence of a route leading beyond the Atlantic to the Indies.

From that point on, nothing was more important to the explorer than this famous route that would take him to the promised land of the Indies. Having convinced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain to fund his expedition, the adventurer put together his crew and began his Atlantic crossing in 1492. By then appointed Admiral, he assured his crew that the ship would reach land within a month already. Sixty days later, the expedition was still sailing across the sea and no land was in sight until the famous night of October 11th to 12th 1492, when one of the seamen sounded the long-awaited cannon shot.

The rest is history: Christopher Columbus disembarked on a tropical island covered with luxuriant vegetation and rimmed with white sandy beaches nestling amid turquoise-blue waters. He was astonished to discover the brown skins of the inhabitants of this new world, which he named San Salvador, believing he had at last reached the Indies. Columbus was in fact in the midst of the Bahamas.

Many other voyages were to follow, resulting in the discovery of new lands – Hispaniola, the lesser Antilles, Cuba, the Honduras and Panama. Convinced that he had indeed discovered part of the Indies, the Admiral never realised he was in fact facing a whole new continent: the New World. He died in Spain in 1504, still believing this lie, abandoned by all and deprived of any glory. A few years later, the New World was renamed Americi Terra: America.


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