Vacheron’s "Les Univers Infinis" is their latest Métiers d’Art collection, which highlights the artisanal crafts of enamelling, engraving, Escher influenced tessellation and guilloché. There’s something to be said about watches with a sense of whimsy rather than ultra complications, watches that remind us of art forms that, if we don’t support them, could die out.
The 2012 collection consists of three watches, each produced in a limited edition of twenty : Dove, Fish and Shell.
Each of the watches is 18K white gold, 40mm, contains Vacheron’s automatic Caliber 2460 SC which can be seen through an open case back, has 3 bar water resistance, and is individually numbered.
The dial of the Dove watch features 38 doves in flight, captured by engravers, Grand Feu champlevé enamelling and guilloché work. 'Champlever' refers to how an image is carved out before the enameller fills the cavities. Champlevé is distinguished from cloisonné enameling, in which the images/ spaces are created by soldering flat metal strips to the surface of the object.
For the Dove, the enameller completes the dial by applying a translucent enamel coating to the violet birds and opalescent enamel to the white ones. Once the enamelling is complete, the gemsetter inserts diamonds into one of the doves. Finally, the guillocheur, finishes it off.
A shoal of fish created by guilloché work and grand feu cloisonné enamelling commences with cutting the fish and engraving their eyes. The guillocheur then creates tenth-of-a-millimetre symmetrical motifs, curves are added, and the fish covered with scales. The enameller marks out the outline of the fish using a very fine gold wire to separate the various colours. The enamel is placed in each fish and it is then fired in an oven several times, after which the wires are polished down to the level of the enamelling before a final glaze of varnish is added.
Shells and starfish are created by the same methods above, with grand feu champlevé enamelling to form an ochre-tinged seabed.
Even if the subject matter of these watches is not to your liking, or you find them a bit too visually elaborate for your tastes, you can still admire the craftsmanship that goes into these dials. Firstly, the engraver traces the shapes on the dial using a drypoint and then hollows out the fields or cavities in order to create a relief engraving using this champlevé technique.
After that is the enamelling work. Firstly, the cavities created by the engraver are filled with enamel. They are then fired them several times at 800° to 850°C. Several firing sessions are required, after which the result is polished, glazed and varnished. At the completion of these, an engraver finishes off the surface of the designs where necessary.
Here is a video from Vacheron about these three new watches that is worth watching.
For more about the art of enameling, read Elizabeth Doerr’s great in-depth piece here