Vacheron Constantin Les Masques, Metiers D'Art and Great Explorers Review
The Greatest Complication
What truly distinguishes Vacheron Constantin from the majority of Swiss watchmakers, is the artistic timepieces.
Titled Metiers D'Art, and joined by Les Masques 2007, Les Masques 2008, and Great Explorers collections, these watches reveal the brand's penchant for developing art inspired products. They place the company in the vanguard of the industry: creating such original pieces means, in a way, manufacturing the grandest complication of all.
These collections are both a dedication and a sublimation. They are dedicated to the artisans (engraving and enamel masters) who toiled on Vacheron Constantin watches for centuries, as an acknowledgment and encouragement of the workers' artistic aspirations.
They also transcend the precise mechanical nature of the timepieces into something as graceful, irrational and unpredictable as art, once and for all proving that functional instruments can rise to the level of real aesthetic quality.
Les Masques and Metiers D'Art dispose of hands – probably the most recognizable and seemingly indispensable part of the wrist watch – and offer a new way of reading time. Instead of the conventional dial, Vacheron Constantin crafted four disks, confining them close to the inner rim or the bezel.
The disks indicate the hours, the minutes, the date and the month, each made visible from a small dedicated aperture. This movement clears the face of the watch for the artistic centerpiece.
Columbus, Marco Polo and Apollo
The Great Explorers goes even further: the dial has been dissected into two overlapping tiers, the opening between them containing the single marker that shows time. This marker is not a hand. Rather, it is an axis that carries on its tip a numeral that indicates the current hour, and, as it describes an arch, points to the number of minutes passed.
This both succinct and elaborate movement frees the dial to display a geographical map that represents the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo – two models all in all.
Let's take a look at the centerpieces: Apollo's four-horses chariot, made of either gold or platinum, is hand engraved, and placed on a background that was enameled by an artist's hand.
The painted motifs depict the supporting artistic idea behind the collection: Apollo rides his chariot in each of the year's seasons – the heavenly bodies and the flora alluding to either spring, summer, autumn or winter. Depending on the season, the watch emanates a warm or cold energy. 48 watches were made – 12 collectible sets.
The Dark Side?
Les Masques is the newest, and perhaps most esoteric Vacheron Constantin collection. During 2007 and 2008 the brand created two lines, each featuring four timepieces bedecked with masks. The masks are a miniature reproduction of real historical artefacts currently belonging to the Barbier-Mueller Museum: these are various tribal, shamanistic, traditional, ritualistic and otherwise religious masks used by aboriginal peoples of the continents of Africa (Gabon, Congo), Oceania (Papua New Guinea, Indonesia), North and South America (Mexico, Alaska) and Asia (Japan, China). Along with the expected Les Masques 2009, only 300 watches, 25 with each mask, will be created.
The emphasized exclusivity of these collections leaves no doubt about their destiny: it's one of collectibles, to be owned by few connoisseurs. But putting aside the serious business of collecting watches, in these artistic items we all learn about the playful, and even the dark side of Vacheron Constantin.