Intricately Nuanced Green in the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grisaille Dragon

A delicate enamelling technique for an Imperial symbol.

Christened “Récits de Voyages”, the Les Cabinotiers line-up for 2023 is all about captivating narratives told through unique timepieces, each recounting the historical expansion of the brand across diverse geographies. One of them evokes the mid-19th century when Vacheron Constantin forged its first commercial ties in China, reflecting the profound significance of the country for watchmaking in that era.

The Les Cabinotiers Grisaille High Jewellery “Dragon” pays homage to that historical relationship. This extraordinary timepiece features a grisaille enamel dial in green – the technique almost always relies on greys and blacks instead – that showcases the mythical five-clawed dragon, once the symbol of the Chinese emperor. The artisanal enamel dial is contained within a case fully set baguette-cut diamonds, alongside one of the thinnest self-winding movements ever, the cal. 1120.

Initial thoughts

The dial of the Les Cabinotiers Dragon showcases the grisaille technique that offers a distinct, high contrast and a clear focus on the mythical subject. Departing from the conventional grisaille approach of a monochromatic palette of greys, Vacheron Constantin opted for a unique twist by employing shaded green enamel to depict the majestic dragon. The colour manages to give the dragon more life than compared to a traditional black-and-grey grisaille dial, while still retaining the discreet elegance that is characteristic of the technique.

The result is remarkable and literally a canvas. The dial itself is all enamel and unaltered by any logo – the Vacheron Constantin emblem is instead printed on the underside of the sapphire crystal. But the discreet elegance mostly stops at the dial: the case is diamond set in its entirety and creates a striking visual impact.

Over the past 15 years, Vacheron Constantin has arguably narrowed the gap with its main competitor in the metiers d’art, namely Patek Philippe and its Rare Handcrafts collection. It’s clear that watches like the Grisaille Dragon demonstrate the very best of the brand’s in-house production.

Les Cabinotiers Récits de Voyages

This year’s Les Cabinotiers collection is Récits de Voyages, or “travel stories”, and commemorates the brand’s 19th-century international expansion. Each watch narrates distinct stages of this historical odyssey when founders Jacques-Barthélémi Vacheron and François Constantin traversed the roads connecting Central Europe, South America, Scandinavia, and Asia during the 19th century.

The Grisaille Dragon is a reference to Vacheron Constantin’s first foray in China in the mid-19th century, something that would be echoed in the early 21st century when the brand became arguably the premier high horology marque in the country. On the dial is an easily recognisable motif from Chinese culture – the five-clawed dragon chasing a pearl. The five-clawed dragon was the symbol of the Emperor in many dynasties of China, including the Ming and Qing (princes, princesses, and other lesser nobility had to make do with a four-clawed dragon).

Vacheron Constantin introduced a novel take on the traditional grisaille enamelling technique for this dial, utilising green enamel instead of grey. The technique, however, remains the same. The image is created by painting, firing, and also scratching the surface to remove the enamel, creating a shaded image. The master enameller’s chiaroscuro reveals motifs with distinctive depth, with a lapped translucent enamel layer enhancing the depth and contrasts.

The grisaille enamel is combined with gem setting in a 40 mm 18k white gold case that features 146 baguette-cut diamonds and a reverse-set brilliant-cut diamond on the crown. This blend enhances the brilliance of the enamelling, marking a departure from convention where such watches are only set with gemstones on the bezel and typically feature more feminine motifs.

Inside is the cal. 1120, a self-winding movement celebrated for its ultra-thin design. Originally based on a Jaeger-LeCoultre ebauche but now produced in-house by Vacheron Constantin, the cal. 1120 boasts a thickness of just 2.45 mm.

It underwent a redesign in 2010 that included technical improvements as well as aesthetic upgrades like an 18k gold oscillating weight open worked to form a Maltese cross. Like most mechanical Vacheron Constantin movements, the cal. 1120 bears the Poincon de Geneve, which is underlined by the meticulous decoration, including Côtes de Genève, circular graining, chamfering, and straight-grained flanks. 

Key facts and price

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grisaille High Jewellery – Dragon
Ref. 017C/000G-096C

Diameter: 40 mm
Height: 8.90 mm
Material: White gold set with 146 baguette-cut diamonds
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: Not available

Movement: Cal. 1120
Functions: Hours and minutes
Winding: Self-winding
Frequency: 19,800 beats per hour (2.75 Hz)
Power reserve: 40 hours

Strap: Alligator strap with pin buckle

Limited edition: Unique piece
Availability: Available at Vacheron Constantin boutiques only 
Price: Price on request

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