Vacheron Constantin presents the third and final edition of its Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” series.
Four years ago, in 2005, Vacheron Constantin celebrated 250 years of uninterrupted history. This jubilee event, unique in the annals of watchmaking history, was a perfect opportunity for the Geneva-based manufacture to demonstrate its mastery of horological art with exploits that redefined the limits of what is possible.
Having proudly turned to its past, Vacheron Constantin is continuing its steady march towards the future, in an ongoing quest for the extraordinary. To create, astound and enchant, these are the challenges for the years to come.
Watchmaking is an art requiring fresh starts and continual improvement. How else can one go on creating surprises? Thanks in particular to one of its founders, François Constantin, the manufacture’s name and reputation are synonymous with distant horizons. An accomplished ambassador and tireless traveller, he crisscrossed the world in the hazardous conditions of the times to spread the company’s watchmaking expertise on other continents. By 1820, he was already exploring opportunities in China and, in 1833, the first Vacheron & Constantin watches were crossing the Atlantic.
The company had realised very early on the necessity of gaining a foothold in the New World and opened a subsidiary in New York before going on to open one in Brazil around 1840, and another in India ten years later.
In 2007, the manufacture felt the need to go back to basics, paying homage to man when he verges on the sublime. It was a long journey, taking its watchmakers through time and space in search of man’s roots and focussing on one of the most beautiful expressions of his soul.
What would be the best subject to subtly evoke the human experience? The manufacture’s master watchmakers and designers considered several possibilities. As it turned out, the choice of masks was an obvious one, for Geneva is extremely fortunate in having one of the world’s finest museums of primitive art, the Barbier-Mueller Museum. Its proximity guided Vacheron Constantin in its final choice. The Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection, therefore, grew out of a reflection on the near and far, the past, present and future, and the process of constant renewal.
But one obstacle remained: to win over the museum. Would it be willing to lend its treasures for months on end so that they could be reproduced on the dial of a collector’s watch? In the end, two things convinced Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller of the project’s beauty and significance: a lunch during which he and the Vacheron Constantin team headed by Juan-Carlos Torres were able to share their common passion for beautiful objects, and the manufacture’s philosophy.
The rest was a matter of horological magic and the commitment of a team to surpass the limits of possibility. Twelve masks were selected from the Barbier-Mueller collection for small-scale reproduction in gold. They repose majestically at the centre of each timepiece in a collection that spans two thousand years and four continents.
Because Vacheron Constantin understands the value of time, it respected the time needed to create such exceptional pieces. Long months were required first of all to perfect the movement, and then the techniques with which the master craftsmen could reproduce these works of art in miniature. There had to be plenty of time for questioning, reflection and invention.
A collection cannot be hurried. That is why the Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection is a story that has unfurled over time. Every year for three years – 2007 to 2009 – a boxed set of four different masks has been presented in a limited series of 25.
A complete set of the twelve timepieces reproducing the twelve masks – from the limited edition of 300 exceptional timepieces – is being unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at an exhibition sponsored by Vacheron Constantin and called “A Legacy of Collecting: African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva” in tribute to Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller.
Each timepiece is equipped with the automatic Calibre 2460G4 movement, made by the manufacture and bearing the prestigious Poinçon de Genève. Thanks to this very special movement, the time can be read without any hands: by means of a set of wheels and gears, four discs indicate the hours, minutes, day and date in windows, leaving the centre of the dial empty for the masks to be placed there and for the craftsmen to give free rein to their creativity.
The movement was completely redesigned to receive the masks; even though time is the raison d’être here, the masks are the focus of attention and had to be put in the spotlight. To ensure that they were, the team of designers decided to virtually conceal the movement. A clever technique using transparency and specially-treated glass creates the impression that the masks are floating. Each sapphire crystal has a different tint, obtained by a unique metallisation process, so that it sets off the colour of the mask. The effect is breathtaking: the miniature sculpture seems within reach, a silent guardian of ancestral secrets.
Finally, it required all Michel Butor’s talent to give voice, if not life, to the masks. His magnificent words, short poems in prose dedicated to each mask, circle the sapphire dial in letters of gold. The writer’s lines follow each other in a spiral that seems to have no beginning and no end, a mysterious message that can only be read when the light strikes it from a certain angle. This effect is achieved by vacuum metallisation, a sophisticated technological process in which the gold letters are sprayed onto a sapphire crystal. Thanks to the multiple play of light and transparency, the watch has secrets that it will only ever share with its owner.
PRESENTATION OF THE THIRD AND FINAL SET
1. OCEANIA – INDONESIA: Facial Mask, Island of Lombok, Sasak people, Hard wood, traces of white pigments, Height: 21.5 cm, Former collection of Mathias Komor, Inv. 3320-A
With its air of bewilderment, this mask has both realistic and geometrical features and is dominated by the large eyes. It clearly represents an old man with its sunken cheeks, dark rings under the eyebrows, and especially the wrinkles that furrow its brow and the folds between the nose and mouth.
These wrinkles animate the face and help give dramatic expression to the character, which seems to raise its eyebrows and half-open its mouth in amazement. The old man was a regular character in Balinese Wayang Topeng theatre.
The masked actors did not speak because they had to hold their masks between their teeth with a leather thong. It was therefore left to the narrators and singers to describe the intrigue and recount the heroes’ adventures.
2. ASIA – CHINA: Zangs-‘Bag facial Mask, Tibet region, Tantric Buddhism. 16th–17th century, Partially-gilt copper, pigments, Height: 22.2 cm, Inv. 2504-168
A mystery, even a profound sacredness, seems to emanate from this half-empty mask. And yet the highly naturalistic nose reminds us that this figure with its frozen expression has a human side. The divine is expressed by the strange mandorla, positioned like a jewel on the forehead of the mask and enclosing a painted eye.
A beautifully designed frieze of gold-covered arabesques and scrolls frames the empty spaces. This type of zangs-’bag mask was worn by certain monks from the dGe-lugs-pa yellow hat sect. The masks were used in dances linked to the cult of Kâlacakra (the Wheel of Time).
3. AMERICAS – MEXICO: Pendant Mask, State of Guerrero, Mezcala culture (300 – 100 BC), Basalt, Height: 12.8 cm, Inv. 505-26
Blending the influences of several cultures in a singular style, this pendant mask conveys all the artist’s virtuosity. Its powerful and austere profile comprises both abstract and naturalistic features. The upper part of the face and the diagonal of the cheek are treated in a minimalist fashion; by contrast, the aquiline nose and down-turned mouth seem far more realistic.
This mask belongs to the Mezcala culture. During the classical period, it was the custom of these people to bury their dead under the mud floors of their dwellings. In accordance with a ritual related to the ancestral worship of the dead, the tombs were full of small hard-stone sculptures of asexual human figures, heads, plaques decorated with faces, masks, and animal effigies.
4. AFRICA – GABON: Ngontang Mask, Western Gabon, Fang people, Soft wood covered with white kaolin, specks of crystallisation, Height: 31 cm, Inv. 1019-76
The sobriety of this white mask, with its melancholic air and o-shaped mouth, shows the sculptor’s remarkable sensitivity. It is covered with white kaolin, a colour that for the Fang, as for many other African tribes, referred to the spirit of the dead.
The expressive power of the face is produced by the vertical line suggesting the nose as well as the scarifications from the chin to the forehead and from which two well defined, curved eyebrows branch out.
This mask was used in a ritual dance linked to the Byeri’s cult of ancestor worship. Although its use did not have any particularly religious significance, the initiated dancer had to respect certain ritual gestures and taboos. These dances were intended to protect the village from witchcraft and evil influences.
Collection: Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” Third Edition
China Mask: 86070/000J-9400 for the 18K yellow gold version
Indonesia Mask: 86070/000G-9399 for the 18K white gold version
Mexico Mask: 86070/000P-9401 for the 950 Platinum version
Gabon Mask: 86070/000R-9402 for the 5N 18K pink gold version
Calibre VC 2460 G4, self-winding mechanical; Stamped Poinçon de Genève
Thickness of movement: 3.60 mm; 6.05 mm with additional plate
Diameter of movement: 25.60 mm, or 11½ lignes
Jewelling: 27 rubies
Frequency: 28,800 vibrations/hour
Power reserve: Approx. 40 hours
Indications and functions
Displayed in 4 windows on the case rim:
– hours with dragging disc
– minutes with dragging disc
– day with semi-jumping disc
– date with semi-jumping disc
China Mask: 18K yellow gold
Indonesia Mask: 18K white gold
Mexico Mask: 950 Platinum
Gabon Mask: 5N 18K pink gold
Diameter: 40 mm with sapphire crystal back
Water-resistance: 3 bar, equivalent to 30 metres
Dial: Anti-reflective sapphire crystal
Mississipiensis alligator, hand-stitched; High shiny finish, dark brown
Clasp: 18K gold or 950 platinum folding clasp; Half Maltese Cross
2009: The third Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” set is a limited edition of 25 boxes, each containing four timepieces representing four different continents (the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania), for a total of 100 individual pieces.
VACHERON CONSTANTIN & THE BARBIER-MUELLER MUSEUM
Some partnerships are so clearly written in the stars that it seems amazing they have not been formed before. Yet it took a special encounter for Vacheron Constantin and the Barbier-Mueller Museum to find an opportunity to fuse their destinies in a collection of timepieces transcended by primitive art.
This cooperation would doubtless never have developed, were it not for the values Vacheron Constantin shares with the Barbier-Mueller family. Its collection of primitive art, exhibited for over three decades in Geneva and for the past twelve years in Barcelona, expresses a powerful attachment to cultural diversity and a pioneering spirit that is greatly cherished by Vacheron Constantin.
In devoting his life to enriching the family collection of tribal art that was initiated over a century ago, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller has shown himself to be one of the most visionary collectors of his generation. A tireless discoverer of unsuspected artistic treasures, he has given Geneva a museum of immeasurable importance.It was in partnership with the Barbier-Mueller Museum that Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection was created in 2007.
Paying tribute to the Métiers d’Art watchmakers, and more particularly to engraving, this collection has covered a three-year period – from 2007 to 2009 – with a set of four models produced per year, each issued in a limited edition of twenty-five. These twelve watches are faithful reproductions in miniature of twelve original masks from the private Barbier-Mueller collection that come from four regions of the world rich in tribal art.
June 2009: on the occasion of the vernissage of “A Legacy of Collecting: African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva”, an exhibition backed by Vacheron Constantin, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and dedicated to the masterpieces of the family collection, Vacheron Constantin has the great honour and privilege of presenting the complete Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection: a grand finale, as it were, serving as a tribute to Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller and as further confirmation of Vacheron Constantin’s attachment to culture, travel and discovery.
Culture, because Vacheron Constantin is a company whose creations are all inspired by artistry. Travel, because it is in the company’s genes. Those acquainted with the history of our manufacture know just how much its founders, and particularly François Constantin, loved to travel the globe to share their horological expertise. And as for discovery, that is clearly an integral part of the company philosophy. If it had not constantly challenged existing technical, aesthetic and cultural assumptions and explored uncharted territory, Vacheron Constantin would doubtless not have been able to look back on over 250 years of watchmaking know-how.
Born of a philosophical reflection on places near and far, the past, present and future, and on the process of constant renewal, the Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection pays a glowing tribute to the human spirit. It eloquently conveys the respect we feel for craftsmen in general, and for the remarkable work accomplished by those at Vacheron Constantin in particular.
THE BARBIER-MUELLER MUSEUM IN GENEVA
Geneva is privileged to be home to one of the largest and most beautiful collections of primitive art in the world: the Barbier-Mueller Museum. To better appreciate the pioneering spirit that inspired Josef Mueller, the collection’s founder, we have to look at his early artistic emotions. When he was twenty, he used his entire year’s earnings to buy a painting by Ferdinand Hodler and, soon afterwards, went to Paris where he met the well-known art dealer Ambroise Vollard.
On the latter’s advice, he acquired an important and remarkable painting by Cézanne, the portrait of the Jardinier Vallier, painted in 1905 at the very end of the artist’s life. Cézanne was to become the father of modern painting. It was only by overcoming many difficulties that Josef Mueller rapidly built up a collection that, by 1918, already included seven Cézanne, five Matisse, five Renoir as well as paintings by Picasso, Braque and many others by celebrated masters.
It was in the 1920’s that Josef Mueller discovered tribal art. During this period, there was a craze for all things exotic: African art, La Revue nègre and… Josephine Baker. Josef Mueller bought whatever took his fancy. Besides works of lesser interest, he acquired some magnificent pieces from leading Parisian dealers, one of whom, the celebrated Charles Ratton, sold him the Téké Tsaayi mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had belonged to André Derain. Today, the collection includes many works that were once owned by those who, like Derain, Vlaminck, Tzara and Lhote, had discovered African art.
It was in 1952 that Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, a young man intent on building up his own collection, arrived on the scene. He was 22 when he met Monique, Josef Mueller’s daughter. They later married and amalgamated the two collections that, thanks to him, have flourished ever since.
In May 1977, three months after Josef Mueller’s death, Monique and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller opened the first museum to bear their name in Geneva. They opened the second, in Barcelona, in 1997. 2007 was a milestone year with the 100th anniversary of the Barbier-Mueller collection, the 30th anniversary of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, and the 10th anniversary of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Barcelona.
JEAN PAUL BARBIER-MUELLER
Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller was born in Geneva in 1930 and greatly influenced by a father who was passionate about everything: poetry, philosophy, music (one of his compositions was written in Seattle, in the United States, in 1985) and science (getting his Ph. D. in biology at the age of 47).
After studying law in Geneva and London, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller was called to the Bar, but soon afterwards went to work for a leading bank and, then, at the age of 28, became director of an investment company. In 1960, he started up his own company, the Société Privée de Gérance, which specialises in property development and management for institutional investors and the construction of social housing. A collector like his father-in-law Josef Mueller, he specialises in “non-western” arts. In 1977, he and his wife Monique opened the Barbier-Mueller Museum.
It has organised over seventy-five exhibitions, presenting different parts of the family collection. These exhibitions were organised in collaboration with leading museums in Europe, America and Asia, and the majority had important catalogues. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller himself conducted or financed research projects in Sumatra, the Ivory Coast and Guinea.
In May 1997, the Museu Barbier-Mueller d’Art precolombí opened its doors in Barcelona in the Nadal Palace. Inaugurated by Her Majesty Queen Sofia, the museum was the outcome of an enthusiastic response from the City Council to an offer to lend around 400 works of pre-Hispanic American art on a long-term basis.
The Nadal Palace was restored for the purpose of exhibiting these pieces. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller also amassed a collection of early editions of Renaissance poets, which he began at the age of 13 and for which he gradually published a catalogue.
He and his wife established the Barbier-Mueller Foundation in 1997 at the University of Geneva for the study of Italian Renaissance poetry. The Foundation received an endowment of around 200 volumes from the 15th and 16th centuries, a donation of considerable cultural value. New acquisitions have significantly enlarged this collection, which contained around 500 volumes in 2005.
A catalogue was published by Professor Jean Balsamo in 2006. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller has been made Commander of the Legion of Honour and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, as well as Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and Officer of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic. Recently, His Majesty the King of Spain awarded him the insignia of Grand Officer of the Order of Civil Merit. He is also an Officer of the Ivory Coast’s Order of Merit.
Michel Butor was born on 14 September 1926 in the north of France. His father was an administrator for the Chemin de Fer du Nord and passionate about drawing, water-colour painting and wood engraving. In 1929, Michel Butor’s family moved to Paris. With the exception of 1939-1940, the year of the “phoney war”, which he spent in Normandy, he did all his schooling there. After studying literature and philosophy at university, he left Paris to teach in the Nile Valley, in Egypt.
He had been fascinated by writing for a long time when his first novels were published by Minuit. He continued his travels, which were both professional and exploratory, visiting Greece, Switzerland and the United States. He was appointed professor at the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Arts and published various essays, narrations, poems and short stories. He then worked with painters, musicians and photographers who were keen to bring different forms of artistic expression together.
He has written two works for the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Le Congrès des cuillers and Un Jour nous construirons les pyramides, the latter to coincide with the publication and exhibition of a collection of pre-Pharaonic Egyptian artefacts. He continued to travel, visiting Japan, Australia and China. He retired in 1991 and now lives in Haute-Savoie, in France near Geneva.