A closer look at Vacheron Constantin’s new ladies’ collection, Égérie (French for “muse”), inspired by high fashion, leaves me grappling for words that do it justice.
Designed with the style-conscious woman in mind, the Swiss watch house had its métiers d’art workshop adapt age-old decorative crafts to mimic the kind of details used in couture. Dial pattern design is gleaned from the ancient art of tapestry with apparent textures referencing meticulously pleated fabric. This is achieved through hand-guillochage (engraving) techniques. Even the typical leaf-style watch hands are carefully adjusted to resemble needles.
Laurent Perves, head of product marketing, communication, heritage and digital teams at Vacheron Constantin, explains that every new watch development begins with a phase of imagination and creativity that involves all the teams.
“In the case of Égérie, the design teams worked on specific techniques used in haute couture. When you think haute couture, you think catwalk, but haute couture is really craftsmanship. It is an artisanal universe, [referencing] the art of precision in embroidering, pleating and sewing,” he says. “It is inspiring to work on the dial tapestry effect for Égérie, the typography that is a tribute to embroidery, and the hands that are reminiscent of sewing tools shaped to avoid damaging the fabric. The second very important part of the work is looking at our heritage and seeing how we can leverage it to build something completely new.”
Christian Selmoni, style and heritage director at Vacheron Constantin, likes to talk tension between classicism and contemporaneity in new watch design, and references the maison’s heritage for inspiration. “I like the idea of tension. I think the creativity is linked to exploring different things and finding something we can extract from the tensions of the past and today. This is very present in Égérie.”
Selmoni and Perves shared design sketches with me during our Zoom interview, showing how a 204-year-old timepiece with a very special, off-centre indication for the time influenced the one for Égérie.
“This is an example of confronting tradition and heritage with today’s world. This tension between past and present helps us create new things and find new directions,” says Selmoni. “We have some cool watches here. You can see the idea of the crown at 1 o’clock for Égérie was given by a fabulous watch made for the American market in 1921. It had a crown at 11 o’clock and some models had the crown at 1 o’clock as well. The inspiration points come from the roots of the company.”
The self-winding Égérie models have a 35mm diameter and date display, while the moon phase models are slightly bigger at 37mm. There are two steel versions fitted with a slim, five-link bracelet; as well as two pink-gold models with three interchangeable alligator leather straps in night blue, raspberry pink, and candied chestnut. The fully diamond-paved, white-gold moon-phase model has two straps.
Vacheron Constantin’s in-house gem-setters worked on the fully-paved jewellery watch in the collection. The setting of this timepiece underlines the complexity and attention to detail evident in the Égérie design. “It’s a cool combination of tradition and modernity in the sense that there is a very romantic vision of the moon phase through clouds. The clouds are translucent, which is achieved by using sapphire crystal, etched by laser. We have used state-of-the-art technology to create something full of romanticism. It gives tremendous personality to the watch. It’s a stunning timepiece,” says Selmoni.
How closely must the jewellery artisans be guided to ensure they stay close to the Vacheron Constantin style? “Part of the game is to go off the mark,” says Selmoni. “It is very important to evolve, to innovate, as in technical watchmaking. What is important for us is that we have some traditional crafts in-house.
“If we look back to the very early years of Vacheron Constantin, we had numerous engravers, gem-setters, master craftsmen in the service of the company. We are honestly very proud to have been able to keep these crafts alive. Even during very difficult years we were able to maintain this know-how. Very few watchmaking maisons did that.”
The challenge is to be creative and innovative with crafts that are something like 300 years old. “For example, our super-shy master craftsman from Thailand (if he was in Japan he would be considered a living treasure) is able to create figurative engraving through these guillochage machines. He is the only guy on the planet who is able to do that. We are very proud when our artisans go all out and do things like that, because it helps us carry on and incorporate novelty and creativity into these traditional crafts,” says Selmoni.
Vacheron Constantin’s strategy is to keep its metiers d’arts in-house. “We are very lucky to have a full set of artisans and artists in-house working only on our timepieces — guillochage, diamond setting, enamelling, sculpting,” says Perve. “We are constantly looking for new talent, and recently introduced new members to our engraving and sculpting team. We make sure we renew that savoire faire. For us, artistry is so much at the core of the maison that it’s something we can only see as being internalised and fully integrated to the maison.
“It’s a huge investment. We are very grateful and lucky to be attractive to these people. Because Vacheron Constantin has been active in the world of art and supporting craftsmanship for a very long time now, fortunately we are a natural target or destination for talented people.”
It’s no surprise that these pieces have been in demand since their simultaneous launch to press and clients in mid-March. During the pandemic, there are some constraints to shipping products but “fortunately, our clients are patient. The reaction to Égérie so far has been outstanding”, says Perve.
How many will actually be produced is never revealed, but it’s safe to say each version is “one of not many”.