Christian Selmoni, Heritage and Style Director at Vacheron Constantin discusses the latest Les Cabinotiers creation and the importance of preserving high watchmaking techniques at the Maison
High watchmaking is truly an art that needs to be preserved. While many years ago this trade was common in Switzerland, today there are very few artisans who can still undertake some of the most complicated skills in involved in the creation of complicated timepieces. Preserving these techniques is crucial for the sustainability of the traditional watchmaking industry and while many are looking for fresh, modern designs that embrace technology, avid watch collections have a long-standing understanding and appreciation of craftsmanship and transparency in watchmaking. And as the world starts to look for more sustainable and genuine products, high watchmaking pieces have become more relevant than ever.
This year, Vacheron Constantin presents a new exceptional piece in the Les Cabinotiers collection. The Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie Tribute to Johannes Vermeer timepiece is a bespoke single-piece edition, displaying a masterpiece of Haute Horology and craftsmanship. The piece was first imagined by a Vacheron Constantin client who had a vision for this watch in 2013. Working closely with the team at Vacheron Constantin this avid watch collector was able to refine his vision allowing it to become what it is today. Now, eight years later, the finished product is something truly spectacular. This impressive pocket watch features a new in-house Grande Sonnerie Westminster movement, Calibre 3761 with tourbillon regulator and on the outside, it has a meticulously engraved case of which the bow is adorned with two hand-sculpted lion heads. Taking it to an even higher level of craftsmanship it features an officer-type cover with a miniature enamel painting by enamel expert Anita Porchet, of “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, an iconic work by artist Johannes Vermeer.
Yes, this watch is a masterpiece, but it also represents so much more than that. It is a figurehead for the importance of craftsmanship in watchmaking and a symbol of why the industry should be continuing to preserve and appreciate the unimaginable skill that goes into these pieces. Made to last forever, these kinds of timepieces become a piece of history, a family heirloom, a symbol of hope, love, joy or a memory for generations to come.
As Heritage and Style Director at Vacheron Constantin, Christian Selmoni is responsible for guarding the incredible history of the Maison and extracting designs and design elements from the past to nurture the brand’s present and future creations. As a result, he is also concerned with sustaining these beautiful artisanal techniques in order to ensure that the highly skilled creations that the brand is known for continue to live on for generations. It is almost impossible to stress the skill and detail that goes into creating a piece like this, requiring skills that very few in the world still possess. Here we discover more about this exceptional watch as well as the importance of preserving traditional watchmaking techniques at the Maison.
Tell us about the Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie watch and why it’s such a special piece?
We consider this timepiece as exceptional for several reasons: from a technical aspect; it is a Grande Sonnerie with Westminster carillon and five hammers, which is very rare. In addition, the movement is regulated with a tourbillon device. From a craftsmanship point of view, this unique timepiece is a true masterpiece: it features the exceptional work of enamelling on the cover, reproducing “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer, executed in the miniature painting enamelling technique by the famous enamelling artist Anita Porchet. In addition, the whole watch case is adorned with an exceptional work of art achieved by one of our master engravers. Finally, this timepiece is very special, in the sense that it is a true made-to-order creation, the client has been a very active part of the whole creation process.
What can you tell us about the process involved in the creation?
Our client has been very much involved in all creative aspects of this timepiece, from the initial idea to the final completion. Discussions with our client started in 2013 and he has been accompanying us along the creation and development process, until the watch’s completion in 2021.
The craftsmanship on this pocket watch is incredible – can you share an insight into some of the techniques that were used?
In a nutshell, this unique timepiece is an ode to the finest enamelling and engraving techniques. Miniature painting enamel – “technique de Genève” – is the most demanding enamelling technique, only mastered by very few experts, and in addition, the difficulty was added due to the exceptional size of the artwork to be achieved: a cover of no less than 98mm in diameter! In terms of engraving, we can see here a combination of the most challenging engraving techniques: champlevé, fine line, sculpture and chiselling. The result is simply breathtaking!
What are the biggest challenges the team faces in creating a watch such as this?
Besides decorative crafts, this timepiece embarks a dedicated movement, created especially for this unique timepiece, which makes it truly exceptional. There is an incredible sum of technical and watchmaking know-how and expertise in this unique creation.
Tell us about the ways watchmaking and art are so closely linked?
We can speak of watchmaking (and decorative) arts when considering this creation, as art pieces represent a sum of efforts, talent and competencies to be considered as such.
Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers pieces have become greatly popular over the years – how do you think these unique pieces are appealing to today’s customers?
Today, avid if not ultimate collectors are in search of exclusivity and exploits, and such extraordinary creations are indeed examples of uniqueness and absolute mastery from both a technical and a crafts point of view.
What can you tell us about the history of pocket watches at Vacheron Constantin?
Our Maison was founded in 1755 and consequently, we have a unique history when considering pocket watches: the first known Vacheron Constantin timepiece was manufactured in 1755 and was a pocket watch. At the beginning of the 19th century, we were already offering exceptional chiming pocket watches along with other complications. Our history is still paved with exceptional pocket watches, more than two centuries later! The story goes on…
Can you share a little about the evolution of Grande Sonnerie watches at Vacheron Constantin and how in your opinion, they are still relevant today?
Chiming watches are considered as the most complicated watches that exist. It therefore makes sense to continue creating grand complications such as the Grande Sonnerie today, as they are a testimony of exceptional know-how in complicated watchmaking: there are very few Grande Sonnerie pieces offered today, and this is certainly due to the extreme complexity of their mechanism, only mastered by very few master watchmakers.
What is something you would still like to do at Vacheron Constantin that you haven’t done yet?
This is really a hard question, as our Maison has covered – since 266 years of non-stop activity – all aspects of the finest watchmaking. However, I confess a particular passion for unexpected time indication – such as double retrograde displays or dragging hours displays. Hopefully, we never cease to create such innovative designs, and I am sure that we will continue to do it in the future!
What can you tell us about what else is in the pipeline for Vacheron Constantin this year?
For sure the coming months will be illustrated by a combination of high complications and technical excellence with the most refined aesthetics and crafts as our Maison is used to perpetuate since 266 years. Stay tuned!