Night at the museum: Vacheron Constantin launches new watches together with The Louvre
The world’s longest continuously-run watchmaker and the world’s most visited museum came together one May evening to unveil a new limited edition series of artistic watches, inspired by ancient civilisations. Here’s what happened.
In 2019, Vacheron Constantin began authenticating its watches with blockchain certificates (we wrote about that here), becoming one of the first Swiss watchmakers to embrace distributed ledger technology. A smart move, and one that showed just how progressive a (then) 263-year-old company could be.
But for Vacheron Constantin, it isn’t about embracing the new for new’s sake. “It’s how you combine past and future, how you inject innovation in your legacy,” explained Sandrine Donguy, the watchmaker’s product marketing & innovation director. “[Our] foundation is [built on] mastering craft and high watchmaking, but we also have to stay in tune with our times. We have to look at new ways of conception.”
Almost as if to prove the point about craft and heritage being a top priority, the watchmaker recently launched a series of four limited edition timepieces, each ornamented by different decorative arts. The collection, called Metiers d’Art – Tribute to great civilisations, made its debut in Paris, at no less than (arguably) the world’s greatest repository of ancient artefacts, the Louvre Museum.
The event’s location was no coincidence: Vacheron Constantin and the Louvre have been partners since 2019. Had the pandemic not thrown a spanner in the works, Donguy shared, the launch would have happened sooner. In fact it was postponed twice, in mid-2021 and in Jan 2022.
Still, better late than never. So in late May, we found ourself in Paris to witness the spectacle. And what a spectacle it was! On the morning of the event we were treated to a private tour of the Louvre, and in the evening we concluded with a gala dinner under IM Pei’s glass pyramid. It was like a scene from a Bond flick. The attendees comprised about 100 members of the global press, including a contingent of six from Singapore.
How does one organise a private tour of the world’s most visited museum (which hosted 9.6 million visitors in 2019), you ask? Simple. By having it on a Tuesday, when the museum is closed. Walking through the Louvre’s immense halls and galleries uninterrupted was a delight in itself. Having guides introduce the four timepieces – representing the Persian Empire, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire – was the icing on the cake.
FROM EGYPT TO ROME
On each watch dial, a motif was chosen to represent the corresponding civilisation: The Great Sphinx of Tanis (Egypt), Lion of Darius (Persia), Winged Victory of Samothrace (Greece) and bust of Octavian Augustus (Rome). If you’ve ever been to the Louvre, the Winged Victory of Samothrace might ring a bell – it’s that colossal winged goddess statue standing guard at the top of a staircase, en route to the Mona Lisa.
“Never did I expect my first visit to the Louvre to be a private tour of the space, and it’s definitely a bonus that it was alongside one of my favourite brands, Vacheron Constantin,” said Ryan Ong, 25, a Singaporean watch enthusiast invited for the tour.
The four civilisations were selected because they represented significant contributions to humanity, such as the birth of democracy in Ancient Greece. But why these four specific monuments, out of the thousands in the Louvre’s collection, you ask. Donguy explained that the monuments were symbolic of the periods in which they were produced.
So the Egyptian piece is epitomised by the Great Sphinx of Tanis, which hails from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (2035–1680 BCE), widely regarded as the golden age of Egypt. The Persian piece is characterised by the Lion of Darius, a relief sculpture from the palace courtyard of Darius the Great, who ruled over the Achaemenid Empire (559–330 BCE) in southwestern Iran.
Meanwhile, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, symbolising a naval victory, captures the essence of Hellenistic Greece from 277 BCE to 168 BCE, a period known for its naval battles. Finally, Ancient Rome is personified by the bust of Octavian Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar, who became the first Roman Emperor in 27 BCE.
During the tour, the watches were artfully placed next to the monument they represented. This made for some very nifty photos and videos, but more importantly, they allowed us to appreciate the direct connection between artefact and timepiece. “It was incredible to see the watches juxtaposed next to their respective sculptures around the museum, allowing us to experience the four different civilisations all queue-free,” shared Ong.
Peter Chong, founder of Singapore watch publication Deployant, was also suitably impressed. “Vacheron Constantin has always had excellent offerings in the metiers d’art space. These four novelties are no different. [They have] exceptional conception [and] superb execution.”
For the lucky owners of these watches (the four designs are sold separately but can also be purchased as a set; price on application), it would literally mean having a piece of the Louvre on their wrists.
Of the launch timing, Chong had this to say: “The watch market is in an unprecedented bull phase… Given this buoyant market, I think it’s as good a time as any to launch a high value artistically anchored collection.”
Chong also noted that many high-end collectors, especially those enthusiastic about metiers d’art pieces, have expressed interest and excitement over the new releases. “The link to the Louvre is also a masterful stroke linking horology to artistic [values] and anthropology.”
FLEXING ARTISANAL SKILLS
Vacheron Constantin’s in-house designers and craftsmen worked alongside the Louvre’s curators to bring the timepieces to life. Mind you, much of the project was carried out during the darkest days of the pandemic, so correspondence between the different teams in Geneva and Paris had to take place digitally. Just like the rest of the world.
When ornamenting the dials, the artisans looked to the decorative arts and writings of the various civilisations. For example, the Egyptian model sports a carved 3N gold applique as the head of the sphinx, while the main dial colours (teal and lapis lazuli, hues often associated with ancient Egyptian culture) are made using enamelling techniques. Look closely and you can spot hieroglyphic inscriptions.
On the Persian edition, the patinated white gold lion applique appears against a background of stone marquetry and cuneiform writing. The turquoise and yellow mochaite jasper stones give the dial a very realistic look. It’s as if the frieze wall on which the original lion was carved had been miniaturised to fit the 42mm watch.
On the Greek model, the Victory statue (also in patinated white gold) is positioned off-centre, to emphasise the dramatic form of her wings. Here, enamelling techniques were used to generate the brown colour on the dial centre – a hue reminiscent of ancient Greek vases. Note the ancient Greek script engraved on the sapphire crystal.
The ancient Romans were known for their mosaic tilework, so on the Roman edition, artisans used stone micro-mosaic techniques to frame the white gold bust of Augustus with the accompanying Latin script engraving. Meticulous care was needed to put each of the 660 hard stone fragments in place; any error would require the dial to be painstakingly re-enamelled.
“For the artisans, the most challenging part was to be faithful to the miniaturisation of the piece of art,” said Donguy. “We are mixing different crafts. Some are old crafts, such as micro-mosaic and stone marquetry, while some are much more common in our disposition, such as engraving or enamelling.”
WILL THERE BE A SEQUEL?
With so much effort being put into the creation of the timepieces, it was only natural for Vacheron Constantin to want to celebrate the launch in spectacular fashion. All that pent-up energy after two long years without large-scale events culminated in a black-tie dinner at the Louvre. Spirits were high, to say the least.
The evening’s menu was curated by three-Michelin-starred chef Frederic Anton, who helms Le Jules Verne, the restaurant located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. Appropriately, we supped on a four-course dinner that was subtly influenced by the four civilisations. Think bottarga (Egypt), seabass and fennel salad (Greece), Roman-style artichokes (Rome) and raspberry coulis (Persia).
Appetites sated, we couldn’t help but wonder: Would there be a second or third series celebrating other global cultures? Vacheron Constantin is no stranger to Chinese culture, for example, with the annual release of its Legend of the Chinese Zodiac watches (read about its Year of the Tiger edition here).
Donguy explained: “It’s a challenge to find the same level of expertise. Like in the movies, you have the [original film, then the sequels]. But never say never. It’s [just] something that’s not written at this stage.”
In the meantime, the watch community can revel in the beauty and fine craftsmanship of the four timepieces. They can also entertain the idea that the quartet are worthy of being Louvre exhibits themselves. But not as dusty museum artefacts. They are already equipped with digital certificates, though Donguy anticipates that blockchain technology will play an even bigger role in future.
“There are so many ways we can use the blockchain in order to complement information,” she explained. “We can imagine that in the future, [we can have] videos of the creation process for any individual timepiece so that the clients have all the background [information]. There are many ways to let people experience something very digitalised, [even though] we’re talking about basic watchmaking, an ancestral industry.”
Past and future, combining in the best way possible.
CNA Luxury was in Paris at the invitation of Vacheron Constantin.