Vacheron Constantin is kicking off the week in style with the release of six new watches from its most esteemed department, Les Cabinotiers. Les Cabinotiers is home to the brand’s master watchmakers, whose role is to produce bespoke timepieces for only the most special of client requests. As is the case with these latest novelties, Les Cabinotiers releases an annual collection of unique creations – meaning that every piece leaving this exclusive workshop will be the first and last of its kind. These new models are part of the Récits de Voyages (‘Travel Stories’) collection, which reflects the brand’s geographical expansion that has taken place over the course of its 268-year history.
Grisaille Haute Joaillerie Dragon
Kicking off this exclusive VC party, we have an haute joaillerie model with a green grisaille dragon dial. This particular model celebrates Vacheron Constantin’s connection with China, with the emperor having purchased watches from the horology house in the19th century.
Rather fittingly, the watch flaunts a grisaille enamel dial depicting a five-clawed imperial dragon; a symbol of power, nobility, and good fortune (not that the owner of this model likely needs much more of that)! The grisaille enameling technique is living proof that Vacheron Constantin still do ‘make ‘em like they used to’. It is an arduous technique to say the least, involving the use of rare enamels applied in multiple layers, in a painstakingly precise way, in order to achieve the perfect depth. This particular one is in green for the first time.
Beneath the dial and visible through the sapphire caseback is the beating heart of this masterpiece, the ultra-thin calibre 1120, which spurs the white-gold leaf-shaped hands into action. This is, of course, a movement we have seen before, as it was based on the legendary calibre-920 from Jaeger-LeCoultre and used in watches such as the original 222 and the boutique Overseas ultra-thin Ref. 2000V. In-between these two models however, in 2010, the calibre was redesigned with a new rotor, marginally improved power reserve, and much-improved finishing.
In this instance, the Les Cabinotiers model is expected to be decorated even more, with all the highest techniques one would expect for any piece at this level. At just 2.45mm in height, the movement is perfect for this unique creation, as it allows the watch to remain sleek and elegant on the wrist, leaving the dial to do most of the talking.
I say most because there is of course something else of significance. The calibre 1120 sits snug in a 40mm white-gold case that flaunts the very best of the brand’s gem-setting skills. 146 baguette-cut diamonds adorn every visible surface of this case, reaching a hefty total of 7.1 carats. The clasp follows in close pursuit with a further 16 baguette-cut diamonds, and even the crown is reverse-set with a single brilliant-cut diamond. The watch is presented on a matching thick green alligator strap, and the price is available upon request.
Répétition minutes Tourbillon – Hommage à L’arabesque
Continuing on the theme of the Récits de Voyages, this minute repeater tourbillon wristwatch is a tribute to the Middle East, with various members of ruling families having been amongst the top clients of the brand over the years.
Rather strikingly, the most noticeable feature of this watch is the decoration on the case, which is inspired by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Floral patterns engraved in an intaglio fashion adorn the already powerful and imposing 44 mm white-gold case.
A monochromatic theme continues onto the dial, with a black, grained background peeping through a white-gold ‘lattice-work cover’, once again engraved to the highest started of artisanal mastery. This part alone took one month to make, and was made even trickier by the delicacy and thinness of the surfaces that were engraved.
Répétition Minutes Tourbillon – Hommage au style Art Déco
A second minute repeater tourbillon celebrates Vacheron Constantin’s history and connection to the Americas. Looking back to circa 1810, the maison’s involvement in America grew vastly, until, in the early 20th century, it was fully established, with its client list including some of the most important and wealthy individuals at the time – for instance, James Ward Packard, an engineering obsessed automobile manufacturer, who was perhaps best known for his frivolous nature in collecting and consigning some of the most complicated Patek Philippe watches.
The theme of the watch reflects the Art Deco period, in which cities like New York began to climb up towards the heavens with skyscrapers such as the infamous Chrysler building. This is most notably seen in dial with an expanding design theme, made for the first time from a combination of wood marquetry and the champlevé enameling technique. No fewer than 110 small wood veneers were cut and slotted perfectly into the alveoli over a one-month period to create the design that pays its respects to the ‘gleaming spire’ of the Chrysler building and its surroundings. We’re not done yet, however, as this central motif is surrounded by a ‘pearl’ minute track, which is tastefully finished with 11 baguette-cut diamond hour markers getting progressively shorter towards 12 o-clock to accentuate the track’s gradual disappearance.
The 44mm case of this watch is in this instance made from 5N pink gold and covered with a blanket of an engraved herringbone motif. It secures to the wrist with an alligator strap equipped with a folding clasp, once again not short of any engraving, but this time with what Vacheron describes as a geometric motif. Price is, of course, available upon request.
Calibre 2755 TMR – the beating heart to the Minute Repeater Tourbillons
Both of these minute repeater tourbillon models are powered by Vacheron’s calibre 2755 TMR, a manual-winding powerhouse of a movement that is visible through the sapphire crystal casebacks. It is equipped with a minute repeater consisting of two circular gongs, along with a single speed tourbillon in the form of the Maltese cross, indicating the small seconds.
The movement is finished to the highest standard once again, with a Côtes de Genevetheme surrounded by chamfered inward angles, and the likes of black polish on components such as the tourbillon carriage bar and repeater striking hammers. Calibre 2755 TMR does run at a low frequency of 2.5 HZ, but has a 58-hour power reserve, which, like the rest of the movement, is visible from the rear, and indicated by a small hand.
Armillary Tourbillon – Hommage au style Art Déco
Continuing the New-York Art Deco theme, we have the Armillary Tourbillon in 3N yellow gold. The Armillary Tourbillonis possibly the most well-known title in Les Cabinotiers, and at a whopping 45mm in diameter and 20.10 mm in thickness, the case of this one carries wrist presence to say the very least. Along with the lugs, the case is decorated using a Bas-relief technique, which brings out more definition through hand-chasing the surfaces and then rounding off with an intaglio tool.
Not only is the caseback open in order to display the movement, but calibre 1990 is also visible through a window in the side of the case. Rather novel indeed – and a welcome addition to an already very interesting design from the outside in. With movements like this, jewels are no longer the way to specify the level of engineering. Instead, Vacheron can boast the number of patents that the movement holds, which, in the case of calibre 1990 is four. It is a manual-winding instantaneous bi-retrograde on one side, and a bi-axial armillary tourbillon with a spherical balance wheel on the other side.
This complex movement has 58 hours of power reserve and runs at a frequency of 2.5 HZ, and is decorated impeccably with reworked bridges and plates that match the engraving style of the case. The bridges visible from the front are finished with Côtes de Geneve and accentuated by a black DLC background in a hand-guilloché Art Deco radiating pattern. Upon the dial of the watch, the wearer uses a combination of Roman and Arabic numerals to read the hours and minutes. The small seconds are visible on the tourbillon.
The Mississippiensis alligator strap is fitted with a matching 3N yellow-gold hand engraved folding clasp. Price is available upon request.
Next, we reach perhaps my favourite of Vacheron’s new exclusive offerings. The Memorable Places editions are inspired by four architectural sites in the Far East and Geneva: La Tour de l’Île, Vacheron Constantin’s workshops in Geneva during the mid to late 19th century, the entrance gate to Angkor Thom, the last capital city of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, Old Summer Palace in Beijing, and lastly, the entrance gate to the Confucius Temple and Imperial College Museum, Beijing.
These inspirations are depicted on the dials of the four watches through a new technique that combines engraving and, for two of them, damascening. This is the art of inlaying different metals into one another, and is featured on the trees of the Angkor and Imperial Summer Palace models. The dials are made from plates in pink, yellow and white gold, which are cut and engraved in a juxtaposing manner to give an incredible depth to the historical sites they portray. These plates are between 0.4 and 0.8 mm thick – or rather thin – and thus pose great difficulty for craftsmen. Each dial takes at least 200 hours to complete, but it’s safe to say that the end result is undeniably well worth the effort.
Each of these exquisite dials is paired with a 40mm 5N pink-gold case, with the exception of La Tour de l’Île model, which is encased in white gold, allowing the colourful dial to stand out even further. For this reason, it is my favourite of the series. They are all powered by the ultra-thin calibre 1120 as seen in the grisaille Dragon, which is visible via the sapphire caseback of each watch.
The watches are paired with hand-stitched mississippiensis alligator straps and matching gold pin buckles. These really are true masterpieces to say the least, and therefore, once again, the price is of course available only upon request.
Malte Tourbillon – Hommage au style Haussmannien
Last but not least in Vacheron’s early Les Cabinotiers Christmas box, we have the new Malte Tourbillon, which reflects the brand’s connection to a city much closer to home – Paris. Paris is a city the maison found itself highly involved with in the 19th century, and perhaps more relatable to the vast majority of clientele in this day and age. Georges Eugène Haussmann played an important role in shaping much of the city’s urban character during this period, and his influence is therefore reflected in the façade, such as the engraving on the 5N pink-gold tonneau shaped case, which Vacheron actually refers to as ‘barrel’ shaped. All sorts of elaborate designs are featured on this case, including the sculpted lions on the flanks, which can be spotted all over the scenic city. The bezel in particular reminds me of the architectural detailing that is often seen surrounding the eaves of classically designed Parisian buildings.
The architecture doesn’t stop at the case, but makes its way across to the 246-component calibre 2790 SQ, which in this instance has been heavily reworked to match the standard of the watch. The 2.5 Hz movement is first skeletonised, then the engraver begins his elaborate work on the structure, which alludes to the Eiffel Tower. Besides the hours, minutes and small seconds tourbillon, the movement also displays the date and an indicator showing what is left of the 45-hour power reserve. The Malte Tourbillon likewise comes on a hand stitched Mississippiensis alligator strap with matching 5N pink-gold engraved folding clasp. Price – you guessed it – is available upon request.
Once again, Vacheron Constantin is bestowing upon the horological community an outstanding offering of new wristwatches that pay tribute to the brand’s roots, using the most traditional of techniques and the most discerning of designs – arguably a contrast to the other members of the Holy Trinity’s releases in recent times. The rare timepieces will be allocated to loyal Vacheron Constantin clients only.