Vacheron Constantin Celebrates the Grandeur of the Ancient World

Reproduced in magnificent miniature with the Métiers d'Art "Great Civilisations".

Announced in 2019, Vacheron Constantin’s partnership with the Louvre has given birth to the Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Civilisations, a quartet of watches featuring artisanal, micro-sculptures in a nod to bygone empires.

Each of the four watches bears on its face a scaled-down reproduction of an artefact in the Louvre – the Great Sphinx of Tanis, the lion relief from Palace of Darius I at Susa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the bust of Caesar Augustus. These objects have each been reproduced with creativity and artistry to create dials that live up to the métiers d’art label.

Buste de Auguste

Initial thoughts

Vacheron Constantin’s Metiers d’Art watches reflect the brand’s versatility in artisanal decoration, both in terms of technique and style. But the Great Civilisations are notable for being more complex in terms of construction and materials than past Metiers d’Art watches.

The dials are comprised of several layers and sections, in turn decorated with a variety of artisanal techniques ranging from enamelling to mosaic, in order to create the depth and detail they possess. Importantly, the result is greater than the sum of the parts – the dials are attractive in form and impressive in detail.

Lion de Darius with its Roman mosaic dial base and relief lion

Though all four watches are exceptional examples of Vacheron Constantin’s metier, the Grand sphinx du Tanis and Lion de Darius certainly stand out over the other two, just because of their more striking palette. The Buste d’Auguste and Victoire de Samothrace feel muted in comparison.

The dial of the Grand sphinx de Tanis

While the cultural and historic inspirations behind each of them will not resonate universally, the watches are intrinsically appealing for their craft and aesthetics. They do justice to the objects in the Louvre, especially considering the scale of the objects themselves – the Sphinx is the size of a room – relative to the size of a wristwatch.

But as impressive as the watches themselves is the obvious effort that went into their creation. Each of the watches incorporates a surprising numbers of historical references – a pattern from a vase for the frieze here, a paragraph from a speech given two millennia ago there – so much so that the degree of collaboration between Vacheron Constantin’s creative team and the Louvre must have been all encompassing. This is a collaboration in every sense of the word.

Vacheron Constantin’s Christian Selmoni is instantly recognisable in his windowpane-fabric suit

A shared canvas

Despite the incredible diversity of the dials, they all share the same usual construction made up of a dial base, a decorative frieze around the base, a smoked and engraved sapphire disc on the base, and finally the miniature sculpture on top of the sapphire.

The dial base of Lion de Darius is inlaid with tiny pieces of turquoise and yellow jasper to form a Roman mosaic

The dial base of Victoire de Samothrace features fired enamel, applied by hand naturally

Installing the frieze on the dial of Victoire de Samothrace

The clear sapphire disc is metallised with historical script; in the case of Grand sphinx du Tanis, it features Egyptian hieroglyphs from the cartouche of the pharaoh Menenptah

And the centrepiece is the hand engraved miniature sculpture that reproduces the object itself

The sphinx is set in place

Assembling the dial of Lion de Darius

The result is a three-dimension appearance with the sculpture seemingly positioned at a distance from the dial base, although everything is contained with the millimetres available under the crystal

Mechanically the four watches are identical. They are powered by the cal. 2460 G4/2, a variant of the brand’s in-house movement developed specifically for Metiers d’Art watches.

Additional gearing under the dial splits the time and calendar display into four discs that can be read through four windows at each corner of the dial. This leaves most of the dial empty and a perfect canvas for decoration.

The under-dial view of the movement with all discs removed

The movement with the discs for the hours, minutes, day, and date

The cal. 2460 G4/2 is fitted with a customised rotor specific to the Great Civilisations watches. Made of 22k yellow gold, the rotor reproduces in relief the east facade of the Louvre as depicted in an 18th century etching. The relief is produced via stamping, although the die used for the process is hand engraved.


Buste d’Auguste

Reproducing a bust of Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor who succeeded Julius Caesar, the Buste d’Auguste shows the ruler in his fifties wearing a crown of oak leaves. While the bust in the Louvre is marble, the miniature on the dial is hand-engraved solid gold.

It sits on a dial centre that’s been enamelled in dark green and ringed by a Roman mosaic inspired by a fourth century mosaic found in modern-day Israel. The mosaic rendered on an impressively minuscule scale. Made up of 660 tiny pieces, it relies on seven types of mineral stone: quartzite, cacholong, dumortierite, mochaite, red jasper, grossular, red aventurine.

The decorative ring around the dial, on the other hand, is modelled on another fourth century mosaic is what is now eastern Tunisia. And behind Augustus are lines of text in Latin that are a tribute to the Emperor, drawn from a dedication given at the opening of a city in Algeria that was once part of the Roman Empire.

Grand sphinx de Tanis

A granite sphinx that might be over 4,000 years old, the Great Sphinx of Tanis is missing a nose but still remains imposing. And so it is on the dial of the Grand sphinx de Tanis, which bears the head of the sphinx. Thanks to a clever tweak of the perspective, it appears to loom over the view despite the small size.

The dial base is blue-black enamel with decorative elements taken from the cartonnage of Nakht-khonsou-irou, a gentleman whose coffin is now in the Louvre. Made of plastered layers of fibre – ancient papier-mâché of sorts – cartonnage encased the mummy and was decorated with intricate motifs. Traditionally, the chest area on the cartonnage was covered by a necklace, lends its decorative elements to this watch.

Details from the necklace that have been translated into the watch include the petals in champleve enamel that form the frieze around the dial, as well as the champleve enamel wings on either side of the sphinx; under the necklace on the cartonnage sits a hawk with a ram’s head.

Lion de Darius

Unquestionably the most striking of the quartet, the Lion de Darius takes inspiration from a relief taken from the Palace of Darius in Susa. Built by the Achaemenid king during the sixth century BC in what is modern-day Iran, the palace featured walls decorated with reliefs depicting various creatures and scenes.

One of these is a lion frieze showing several of these creatures – symbols of royal power in the Achaemenid Empire – that’s been reproduced in hand-engraved solid gold against a backdrop of turquoise, a colour seemingly at odds with the lion frieze as it appears today. The reason for the colourful dial is that the frieze is made of glazed bricks that have lost their colour over the millennia, so the dial imagines the lion frieze as it might have been in its time.

The dial is covered in tiny tiles of turquoise, along with tiles of yellow jasper for the upper and lower bands. Sixty-nine pieces of stone were required for the dial mosaic, each piece carefully cut and positioned by hand.

The decorative ring around the dial is inspired by yet another frieze from the palace, this time the “Frieze of Archers”. Its pattern is made up of alternating triangles of engraved metal and champleve enamel.

Victoire de Samothrace

Headless but still strikingly graceful, the Winged Victory of Samothrace represents Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Here the miniature sculpture sits on a dial centre of opaque enamel in orange-brown, a colour that is especially difficult to create according to Vacheron Constantin. It’s a mix of other colours of rare enamels that are not longer available and requires six firings in the oven.

The orange-brown centre is ringed by grisaille enamel, a technique that calls for the artful removal by scratching of the top surface of enamel to reveal the contrast-colour enamel below. The grisaille enamel depicts a pattern taken from a pair of Greek vases in the Louvre. And around the dial is a gold ring that’s been hand engraved with a motif from the Vase of Pergamon, a funerary vase.


Key facts and price

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Civilisations
Ref. 7620A/000R-B926 (Lion de Darius)
Ref. 7620A/000R-B927 (Grand sphinx de Tanis)
Ref.7620A/000G-B928 (Victoire de Samothrace)
Ref. 7620A/000G-B929 (Buste d’Auguste)

Case diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.9 mm
Material: 18k pink gold or white gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 2460G4/2
Features: Hours, minutes, day, and date
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 40 hours

Strap: Alligator strap with folding clasp in gold

Limited edition: Five pieces each
Availability: At Vacheron Constantin boutiques only
Price: Upon request

For more, visit vacheron-constantin.com.


 

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Breitling Introduces Navitimer Cosmonaute B02 Limited Edition

A remake of an original space watch - with several upgrades.

One of the watches synonymous with the pioneer era of spaceflight is the Breitling Cosmonaute, which was worn by Scott Carpenter on the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 7 mission, making him the second American to orbit the Earth and the Cosmonaute the first Swiss-made wristwatch to make it into space.

The Cosmonaute has been part of the Breitling catalogue in various forms in the decades since, but now for the 60th anniversary of Carpenter’s journey to space on board the Aurora 7 spacecraft, Breitling has unveiled a remake, the Navitimer B02 Chronograph 41 Cosmonaute Limited Edition. The 362-piece edition is faithful to the original in terms of design, but upgraded with the in-house Caliber B02 and a bit of luxe in the form of a platinum bezel.

A page from the 1964 Breitling catalogue showing the Navitimer-Cosmonaute ref. 809, the same model worn by Carpenter in space

Initial thoughts

I’ve always liked the distinctive aesthetic of the Navitimer – it is actually an aviation instrument – and the Cosmonaute is essentially a more complex version of the same thing, making it even more of an instrument. Granted all of that functionality has very limited use in the modern world, but it is still an appealing watch that possesses significant history.

That in turn makes the Cosmonaute remake an appealing watch, especially since Breitling did a good job reproducing the original. The diameter remains the same but the modern-day version is necessarily thicker due to the in-house B02 movement, which is definitely the most important upgrade of the entire watch. Derived from Breitling’s flagship B01, it’s a smartly constructed movement that’s amongst the best industrially-produced chronographs calibres at its price point.

A vintage Cosmonaute ref. 809 (left) next to the remake

But the remake does try a bit too hard to look like a vintage original, as Breitling remakes often do (which was the case for the AVI and Navitimer remakes).

It could have gone without the faux-vintage Super-Luminova that is now too common, having been overexploited by the watch industry. That’s a minor quibble that doesn’t take away from the appeal of the overall package.

And then there’s the date, which usually doesn’t work well on a remake but in this case is pretty well done. The date window sits within the hour register, leaving it discreet enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the design.

Scott Carpenter before takeoff with the Cosmonaute visible on his left wrist

A day-and-night indicator

According to Breitling, the Cosmonaute was created at Carpenter’s request in the early 1960s. As the story goes, the astronaut had been a naval aviator in the US military, during which he has encountered the Navitimer ref. 806, one of the leading aviator’s watches of the period.

Carpenter was then selected to be one of the “Mercury Seven”, the seven naval aviators selected for Project Mercury, the first American spaceflight programme, where he approached Breitling for a watch to wear into space. His requirements were simple: a Navitimer that could indicate whether it was day or night back on Earth, leading to the 24-hour display that is now the defining feature of the Cosmonaute.

Carpenter on the phone with President John F. Kennedy after returning to Earth

The actual watch worn by Carpenter into space, which has been acquired by Breitling

The remake retains all the key ingredients of the vintage original, including the black sub-dials and condensed slide-rule bezel that does without the hours-and-minutes scale that’s found on the standard Navitimer. This was another the changes requested by Carpenter since the hours-and-minutes scale calculates distance travelled over time, which wasn’t needed in space.

Another detail is more subtle: the bezel is slightly wider than that on the Navitimer in order to make it easier to rotate while wearing a spacesuit.

But it is not a one-for-one remake. Amongst the differences are the recessed, textured registers (the original had a flat dial) as well as the addition of the Breitling logo on the dial.

The tweak that really matters, however, is the movement. It’s the B02, which is a hand-wind version of the B01 automatic that’s been modified to have a 24-hour display.

Equipped with both a column wheel and vertical clutch, the movement is visible through the open back, which reveals it has slightly fancier finishing than the typical Breitling calibre.

The Cosmonaute limited edition is available on either a strap or steel bracelet     


Key facts and price

Breitling Navitimer B02 Chronograph 41 Cosmonaute Limited Edition
Ref. PB02301A1B1A1 (steel bracelet)
Ref. PB02301A1B1P1 (leather strap)

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: 13 mm
Material: Steel with platinum bezel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance:
 30 m

Movement: Caliber B02
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and chronograph
Winding: Hand wind
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Alligator with folding buckle or steel bracelet

Limited edition: 362 pieces
Availability: 
From Breitling’s online store, boutiques and authorised retailers
Price:
Strap – US$10,800; or 15,850 Singapore dollars
Bracelet – US$11,200; or 16,350 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit Breitling.com


 

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Introducing The Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute 50th Anniversary

50 years ago Lt Commander Scott Carpenter orbited the Earth in the Aurora 7 spacecraft with a Breitling Cosmonaute ref. 809 on his wrist. It was Lt Cmdr Carpenter who first mooted the idea of a 24 hour version of the classic ref. 806 Navitimer in the late fifties because it enabled him to keep track of the time while in space. 

Breitling Introduces the Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition

A spot-on remake of the original Navitimer.

Patek Philippe Introduces the Ref. 5172G Chronograph

A revamp of its classic chronograph.

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