Vacheron Constantin exhibition – London September 2020
The Vacheron Constantin exhibition – London September 2020, held at the brand’s boutique at 37 Old Bond Street, features two centuries of feminine creations. The watches on display showcase a variety of different styles, some encompassing artistic crafts but all befitting a haute couture ensemble.
Whenever I receive a press release from Vacheron Constantin it always features the same closing statement, ‘Founded in 1755, Vacheron Constantin is the world’s oldest watch Manufacture in continuous production for over 265 years…’
With age comes experience. Throughout its history, the esteemed Maison has made a myriad of different watches, embracing a variety of styles. However, all the brand’s creations share one trait in common, they are refined to the nth degree, devoid of compromise.
Vacheron Constantin began making ladies’ watches in the early part of the 19th century. These early models were smaller than men’s watches and often encompassed exquisitely decorated dials and cases.
Over the years, its ladies’ watches have incorporated artistic crafts such as gem-setting, hand-guilloché, enamel work and miniature painting while other creations have eschewed such adornments. While modestly-sized pocket watches have always been popular, brooch watches, bangle watches and wristwatches have also appealed to well-heeled clients. Ladies’ wristwatches would grace wrists before their male counterparts.
Vacheron Constantin made watches that referenced important historical milestones. For example, when the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Egyptian themed items became fashionable, culminating in the brand making a pendant watch in red gold, green enamel and embellished with a gem-set motif.
Furthermore, the styles of Vacheron Constantin have been heavily influenced by ladies’ fashions and prevailing trends. Art Nouveau and Art Deco were two movements which resonated with the Genevan Maison leading it to produce an array of different watch styles. After World War II, Christian Dior redefined ladies couture with his ‘New Look’ (1947). Rounded shoulders, cinched waists and full A-line skirts provided a refreshing change from wartime austerity. Again, the Genevan watch brand recognised the changing mood and indulged women seeking a higher quotient of luxury.
The story of Vacheron Constantin and its long history of crafting peerless feminine watches cannot be conveyed with just a few paragraphs of text. Therefore, the brand is currently holding an exhibition showcasing two centuries of feminine creations at its boutique at 37 Old Bond Street (1st September 2020 – 9th October) where visitors can view these exquisite timepieces at close quarters.
The brand’s press release
Haute Couture and Haute Horlogerie demonstrate a powerful connection highlighted in their very names. Since the mid-20th century, Haute Couture Maisons have been governed by a set of rules that codify their activities, from the making of garments in the atelier to fashion shows. This uncompromisingly rigorous discipline naturally stimulates the imagination of these Maisons forming a whole world of style, luxury and quality. In the same way, their Haute Horlogerie counterparts such as Vacheron Constantin adhere to a number of precepts that ensure that their timepieces stem from a blend of artistry and knowledge. Vacheron Constantin shares with Haute Couture a concern for irreproachable quality dedicated to creativity and an approach to artisanal work characteristic of the artistic crafts. Finally, one cannot evoke this closeness without mentioning the feminine universe, the privileged field of expression of Haute Couture and the embodiment of Vacheron Constantin’s artistic sensitivity for over two centuries.
Feminine Haute Horlogerie
Women became interested in watchmaking at a very early stage of history, often in order to enhance their adornments with objects that were sometimes unusual but generally conceived as authentic jewellery. The practical aspects of these items were nonetheless not neglected, as evidenced by the many striking or calendar watches made for women. Moreover, women were the first to wear timepieces on their wrist, long before wristwatches became widespread in the first half of the 20th century. Vacheron Constantin has left its horological mark on all these periods, from the first ladies’ pocket watches made at the turn of the 18th century to elegant contemporary creations. Like the Haute Couture finery with which they are a perfect fit, they all evoke dreams and passion.
The Vacheron Constantin Heritage: a living and inspiring treasure
The Vacheron Constantin Heritage collections, comprising more than 1,300 pieces, bear witness to this formidable creative impetus in the field of ladies’ watches. With a first historical reference dating back to 1815, a yellow gold pocket watch featuring a caseband finely engraved with a floral motif enhanced with garnets, the Maison provided early demonstrations of the special attention it devoted to women. Whether functional or ceremonial timepieces, jewellery or sports watches, Vacheron Constantin’s feminine creations have always been able to capture artistic trends and adapt them to the clothing trends of the moment, to women’s changing social status, to their desires as well as their wildest whims. Since the 1800s, they have continuously influenced the Maison’s most accomplished creations.
Two centuries of creativity in one exhibition
To illustrate these two centuries of watchmaking in the feminine mode, Vacheron Constantin has selected a few pieces from its Heritage collections. In the manner of a great couturier who designs clothes for special events, the Maison has chosen these timepieces to be associated with an outfit worn at a gala, tea time, lunch or cocktail party, while not forgetting the accessory watch, an indispensable object for people of good taste.
- Gala – Ladies’sapphire and diamond-set gold braided mesh bracelet watch – 1960
The 1960s, a period of great exuberance, was a time of creative momentum, often tinged with audacity. Like a sophisticated gala dress with a slightly provocative touch, this Vacheron Constantin jewellery piece with its integrated bracelet dares to adopt a distinctive shape and display perfect mastery of the art of gemsetting. With its baguette-cut blue sapphires bezel-set on either side of the case to form butterfly wings, this watch appears to be taking flight. This timepiece is secured solely by the bracelet made of braided white gold mesh, adorned with a central “seam”, while its bezel is entirely set with prong-set brilliant-cut diamonds.
- TeaTime – Ladies’diamond-set and enamelled yellow gold pendant brooch watch – 1899
In the late 19th century, women wore their timepieces like jewellery. In contrast to pocket watches, which were hidden from view, ladies’ watches, which were worn as pendants on a chain or as brooches, became ornamental and decorative pieces that gave free rein to craftsmanship. Vacheron Constantin responded perfectly to these feminine desires, notably with this late 19th century yellow gold brooch watch, whose blue enamelled caseback features a fleur-de-lys motif. The enamelled and gem-set tassel hanging from the bow adds to the precious nature of this model displaying the hours, minutes and small seconds on a dial that is itself enamelled and set with gems.
- Luncheon–Ladies’ yellow gold wristwatch with gold “ladder” style and twisted chain integrated bracelet – 1959
Within the feminine universe, jewellery watches are not necessarily the work of jewellers, far from it. Vacheron Constantin’s models from the 1940s and 1950s offer magnificent examples of elaborate goldsmithing carried out on pieces that express a creative drive both in the originality of the shapes and the techniques used. This 1959 jewellery watch is immediately appealing for the purity of its lines, featuring a rectangular silver dial adorned with four “Clous de Paris” perfectly integrated into the gold bracelet. The latter adopts an original “ladder” style with twisted chains softening the strictly rectilinear appearance of the model.
- Cocktail–Ladies’ yellow gold wristwatch with enamelled floral frieze decoration on the bezel – 1905
At the turn of the 20th century, Art Nouveau asserted its style featuring curves and arabesques freely inspired by Nature. Technology was devoted to serving fanciful creativity thanks to small-sized movements. For Vacheron Constantin, which had a miniature marvel at its disposal with its 7”’ (2.15 x 6.5 mm) calibre, this evolution represented a challenge to which it rose with great success. Witness this 1905 ladies’ wristwatch, one of the oldest in its private collection, paired with a bracelet featuring the floral decorations that were typical of the period. The decoration extends onto the bezel that forms a corolla framing the dial coated in white enamel adorned with pearls.
- Accessory – Platinum diamond set“surprise” watch with shutters – 1929
The Roaring Twenties were also pervaded by the appeal of exoticism and the discovery of new horizons. A time when passengers delightedly embarked on transatlantic liners, taking their travel watches with them. Women were thus won over by the Art Deco-inspired “surprise” watches that Vacheron Constantin created with them in mind, models that were often gemset, engraved or enamelled. This remarkably slender 1929 timepiece is set with 22 diamonds on the edges, while the case remains perfectly understated with two simple gadroons flowing on from the shutters. The material used explains this aesthetic bias. Made in platinum, this “surprise” watch testifies to the delightful craze for a metal that was initially discredited but soon thereafter rediscovered by goldsmiths.
Images: Vacheron Constantin