SIHH 2018: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers. Five Artistic Crafts Timepieces Celebrating Hot Air Balloons.

Celebrating the fabulous conquest of the skies with a combination of artistic crafts and horological techniques that include engraving, pounced ornament and plique-à-jour enamel, comes the new Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers with five incredible artistic crafts timepieces celebrating five flights taken on hot air balloons in France between 1783 and 1785. On the scale of a watch dial, the master engravers at VC also accomplish an authentic feat: faithfully reproducing in miniature the historical depictions of these flights. Splendid hand-engraved and micro-sculpted gold hot-air balloons hover against a translucent plique-à-jour enamel background, while time is displayed to the beat of Manufacture Caliber 2460 G4/1.

Each hot air balloon called for up to three weeks of craftsmanship in order to reproduce the entire range of subtle feature and ornamental details of the original works. The dials thus compose authentic miniature scenes graced with an extraordinary variety of motifs. The pounced ornament technique consists of removing material so as to fashion relief effects. This irreversible operation calls for an impeccably deft touch. The master engraver first traces the volumes using a dry point technique, before sculpting the precious mass, which creates a particularly delicate rounded effect. This stage serves to carve out the curves of the balloon and the basket, as well as the lines of the ropes. The burins are repeatedly sharpened so as to achieve extreme precision. The level of finishing becomes ever more sophisticated, all the way through to the smallest details of the human figures, animals and the meticulous decoration of the balloons.

The artisans each use their own methods and tools: small stones, brushes, papers and files. The light effects playing over the different gold textures naturally influence the visual appearance of the surface. The colorful magic of plique-à-jour enamel also takes the center stage in these five exquisite creations. On the dials of the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection, a translucent background in sky blue, dark blue, turquoise, brown or burgundy, evoke a spirit of airy transparency. Vacheron Constantin is for the first time calling upon this skill mastered by very few enamelers. Its layout is reminiscent of cloisonné enameling; while the absence of a base recalls a miniature stained-glass window. The balance between the various shades is extremely subtle, as is the polishing of the partitions between them. The five pieces are cased in an 18K white gold case measuring 40 mm in diameter, they all feature 18K gold hand engraved balloons and are available in a limited edition of 5 pieces each, all priced at $135,000 USD.

The predominant shades of each creation are also picked up on the display discs as well as the matching strap. The inner bezel ring framing the enamel is engraved with a motif inspired by balloon ropes, also varying between 3N, 4N or 5N gold according to the models. Transparency effects provide fascinating glimpses of the gear trains and discs of the in-house Vacheron Constantin Calibre 2460 G4/1 through the plique-à-jour enamel. This special automatic calibre composed of 237 parts and 27 jewels, provides a power reserve of 40 hours when fully wound while beating at a frequency of 28,800 vph.

The disc-type display is cleverly revealed through apertures around the rim of the dial, between the curves of the plique-à-jour enamel partitions. The hours, minutes, day of the week and date are shown by means of four discs: respectively two of the dragging type and two of the jumping variety.

The calibre decorated according to the highest watchmaking finishing standards is generously visible through the transparent case back. The 22K gold oscillating weight was specially engraved and domed for this new collection, evoking the rounded shape of a hot-air balloon.

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Versailles 1783

7610U/000G-B244 - Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Versailles 1783. An aerostat, designed by Étienne de Montgolfier, rises into the air for the very first time. This “aerostatic experiment” has a sheep, a rooster and a duck on board. Their survival will testify to the sufficiency of oxygen at a given altitude. Engraved in white gold, the basket and its floating ropes, having been slightly damaged by the landing, are perfectly visible beneath the opulent 5N gold balloon.

Sticker Price $135,000 USD. For more info on Vacheron Constantin click here.

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Paris 1783

Reference 7610U/000G-B210 Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Paris 1783. The first human being in turn rises heavenwards. Aboard another aerostat, also designed by Étienne de Montgolfier, are two “sky travellers”, micro-sculpted on the dial. Against a sky blue plique-à-jour enamel background, this splendid pink and white gold balloon is engraved with suns, the zodiac, fleurs de lys, garlands, insignia and an eagle with outstretched wings.

Sticker Price $135,000 USD. For more info on Vacheron Constantin click here.

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Paris 1784

Reference 7610U/000G-B243 - Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Paris 1784. The balloonist Blanchard had imagined a system for guiding a balloon’s trajectory. The ingenious system of wings built for this purpose can be clearly made out on the dial. While the landing took place far from the initial designated spot, the flight would inspire its developer and other balloonists in making more fruitful attempts.

Sticker Price $135,000 USD. For more info on Vacheron Constantin click here.

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Bordeaux 1784

Reference 7610U/000G-B246 Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Bordeaux 1784. The whole of France took part in the extraordinary conquest of the skies. This flight, made in Bordeaux with three voyagers in the basket, testifies to what had become a true phenomenon of the era. Reproduced in identical detail on the dial, the balloon features a splendid variety of fabrics and ornamentation, as well as a mythological scene in the middle of the balloon.

Sticker Price $135,000 USD. For more info on Vacheron Constantin click here.

Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Bagnols 1785

Reference 7610U/000G-B245 - Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Bagnols 1785. Ten thousand people salute this flight with thunderous applause. The elegant white and yellow gold basket appears to be floating on plique-à-jour enamel in various shades of blue. The upper part of the balloon is colored by electroplating. Seven years later, the balloon canvas would serve to make clothes for Republican volunteers.

Sticker Price $135,000 USD. For more info on Vacheron Constantin click here.