Swiss watch Manufacture Vacheron Constantin presents a new timepiece collection, Métiers d’Art – Chagall & l’Opéra de Paris: Exceptional one-of-a-kind creations dedicated to the Garnier Opera House, Paris .
When it became a patron of the Paris National Opera in 2007, the Manufacture Vacheron Constantin highlighted one of the values it has sought to perpetuate for over 250 years: the hand-made traditions of fine watchmaking Métiers d’Art, or artistic crafts. This partnership uniting time, art and culture, is distinguished by a masterful demonstration of the expertise cultivated by the oldest watch manufacturer, having enjoyed uninterrupted activity since its founding in 1755.
Vacheron Constantin now creates an exceptional collection of 15 one-of-a-kind models in tribute to the greatest composers, the same artists who inspired Marc Chagall for his monumental fresco painting adorning the ceiling of the Garnier Opera House. The first watch in the Métiers d’Art – Chagall & L’Opéra de Paris collection is entitled “Tribute to famous composers”. This one-of-a-kind creation was presented at the gala evening held in the Palais Garnier on November 20th 2010 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Association pour le Rayonnement de l’Opéra National de Paris (AROP), the Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet. The timepiece features a faithful reproduction of the entire Chagall ceiling, using the time-honoured Geneva technique of grand feu enamelled miniature painting.
This unique timepiece boasts a reproduction of remarkable detail and quality of the famous ceiling of the Opera painted by renowned artist Marc Chagall. This remarkable watch was realized using a traditional Genevan technique known as « Grand Feu », characterized by miniature painting on enamel, this meticulous process is specific to the Swiss city and passed down from generation to generation by masters of this art. After a global presentation of this unique watch, it will join the private collection of the Vacheron Constantin Maison.
The 14 other watches will be created over the next two years, and each will be dedicated to one of the composers appearing in Chagall’s monumental work.
Time, culture and art
This delightful trilogy interweaves past, present and future in a manner that etches these works into eternity. It embodies perfect, vibrant and creative symbiosis that has consistently nurtured the Vacheron Constantin philosophy; a perpetual technical and aesthetic exploration that the House continues to cultivate through expertise built up and passed on from generation to generation, and a breed of creativity firmly focused on innovation.
In this respect, a Vacheron Constantin watch is far more than merely an instrument to read off and measure time. It is a mirror of culture and history, a work of art stemming from a wealth of human encounters such as that between Jean-Marc Vacheron and his apprentice in 1755; between the founder’s grandson and François Constantin in 1819; and, down through the ages, those of all the passionate dedicated artists, watchmaking craftsmen, enamellers, gem-setters and engraving who are the enduring lifeblood of the Manufacture.
Such a philosophy was bound to nurture natural affinities between Vacheron Constantin and the world of the arts. Music, opera and ballet are all fields in which human beings, their talent and their personality set the finishing touch to the beauty of the original work. As a patron of the Paris National Opera for the past four years, the watch manufacturer shares with this institution the art of precision, of constant renewal and of wonderment. An art in which technical and aesthetic mastery is orchestrated by a variety of professions. In both watchmaking and opera, the final accomplishment is a quintessentially human story imbued with numerous faithfully perpetuated and shared expressions of expertise. Time has no hold over these crafts in which high demands and noble challenges are crystallised by a tireless pursuit of excellence, audacity and passion.
Marc Chagall and the Garnier Opera House
It was undoubtedly passion that led Marc Chagall to take up the challenge put to him in 1964 by André Malraux, who was serving at the time as French Minister for Cultural Affairs: namely to paint a new ceiling for the Garnier Opera House. The artist received this unexpected proposal after a performance of Daphnis et Chloé, a ballet for which he had created the stage-setting. This wildly audacious project sparked a good deal of debate and opposition, especially from critics who feared a breach of stylistic unity between the concert hall itself, designed by Charles Garnier, and a ceiling created by a contemporary artist… It undoubtedly took a truly visionary spirit to give shape to this idea, and a distinct touch of boldness to dare to take on an artistic monument dating from the Second Empire.
Chagall’s work transformed the ceiling of the Opera House into a vast poetic sky whirling with opera heroes, brilliant musicians, entwined lovers and legendary characters. Concealing the original ceiling painted by Jules Eugène Lenepveu, Chagall’s rich palette with its intense shades and subtle harmonies is deployed over a full 200 square metres, forming an enchantingly luminous flower lit up by the neo-academic gold and purple hues from the era of Napoleon III. Five coloured petals with respective dominant blue, red, yellow, white and green colours each depict two famous musicians surrounded by some of the works they created. The blue one features Moussorgski and Mozart, along with Boris Goudonov and The Magic Flute; the yellow depicts Tchaikovsky and Adam, with Swan Lake and Giselle; Stravinsky and Ravel shine in red with The Firebird and Daphnis et Chloé; green lends a fresh touch to Berlioz and Wagner and the love stories of Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde; while white with a touch of yellow exalts Rameau and Débussy, along with the latter’s Pelleas and Mélisande. The works of Beethoven, Gluck, Bizet and Verdi are represented in the circle of the dome surrounding the central chandelier. Dotted here and there are some of the most famous Parisian landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc of Triumph, the Place de la Concorde with its obelisk, and of course the Garnier Opera House itself.
The modern, sparkling and vibrant work by Chagall, which he defined as “the colourful mirror of silk dresses and jewellery lighting up the shoulders of the most beautiful women in Paris” achieves a powerful and subtle musicality in which colours set the tone. The artist, an acknowledged master in the field, played on a basically simple orchestration with five dominant themes. Nonetheless, each of them also carries hints of the four others, exactly like in a musical composition featuring echoed and interwoven tones and themes. The exquisite chromatic and almost symphonic equilibrium of the ceiling creates perfect harmony at the heart of a jewel case imbued with history, splendour and symbolism. The magic weaves its spell and proves that art excels in marrying past, present and future, just as Vacheron Constantin loves to do in each of its creations.
Métier d’Art – Chagall & l’Opéra de Paris “Tribute to Famous Composers”
The Métiers d’Art – Chagall & l’Opéra de Paris collection is composed of 15 one-of-a-kind timepieces: a masterwork entitled “Tribute to Famous Composers” and reproducing every last detail of the Garnier Opera House ceiling painted by Marc Chagall; and 14 models each highlighting a composer and one of his works. These unique miniature masterpieces embody the art of grand feu enamel painting, based on the centuries-old Geneva technique that has remained the exclusive preserve of a handful of artisans.
The yellow gold case frames a 31.50 mm-diameter dial bearing a work that is actually spread over 200 square metres – an amazing feat in itself. Three gold hands sweep tirelessly over the painting, pointing in turn to works by Ravel, Debussy and the 12 other composers. Around the circumference, an array of different nymphs have been hand-engraved on the same level as the enamelled dial, creating an amazing depth effect that is further accentuated by the light reflected there. These majestic embodiments of the hours are reproduced after the Second Empire gildings of the Palais Garnier, while the gold-rimmed dial centre echoes that of the ceiling.
The understated and finely polished 40 mm-diameter case sets off to perfection the refinement of the enamelled miniature. Entirely hand-crafted with a blend of patience, meticulous care and concentration, this painting is a worthy heir to the spirit of the Cabinotiers cherished by the founders of Vacheron Constantin, and also embodied in the “officer” style case-back which opens to reveal an engraving created by the Manufacture in tribute to Marc Chagall.
The heart of the timepiece beats to the regular cadence of the Calibre 2460 self-winding movement entirely developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin. Such a stunning work of art naturally deserved a perfect mechanism: in addition to extreme reliability, it also bears the famous Hallmark of Geneva testifying to the perfect execution of the exceptional finishing crafted in keeping with the finest Geneva Haute Horlogerie traditions.
The miniature “Grand Feu” enamelled Geneva technique miniature painting
Having first emerged on the shores of the Mediterranean, enamelling has been used ever since Antiquity to embellish gold ornaments and jewellery. It was adopted by horologers in the 15th Century to adorn their creations and subsequently earned its true pedigree in Geneva, as the city’s artisans refined their techniques, invented new methods and constantly improved this art which came to be expressed in four main ways: champlevé, flinqué, cloisonné and miniature enamelling.
The Métiers d’Art – Chagall & L’Opéra de Paris collection focuses on the art of grand feu enamel painting, one of the oldest and most remarkable craftsmanship traditions of Haute Horlogerie. The grand feu enamels used in the Geneva technique reach their point of fusion at an extremely high temperature, between 800°C and 900°C, thus endowing them with exceptional purity and longevity.
This Métier d’Art, or artistic craft, which was adopted and cultivated by Vacheron Constantin at an early stage in its development, is so rare that only a handful of artisans around the world can claim to have mastered its secrets. This art calls for rigorous and constant discipline that is a fundamental prerequisite in exercising one of the most demanding of all crafts, calling for a degree of concentration and patience perhaps comparable only to the work of the medieval illuminators who toiled over ancient manuscripts.
The Geneva technique of miniature enamelling with a protective flux coating is undoubtedly that which requires the greatest expertise from the master enameller. On a dial measuring 1 mm thick and 31.50 mm in diameter, the artist who crafted the dial of this model began by applying a white base enamel that is extremely hard because of its high fusion point. This dial undergoes a first firing at a temperature of around 900°C in order to be able to withstand the many subsequent firings in the furnace.
On this white enamel base serving as a “background canvas”, the artist starts by tracing the outlines of the various motifs with a brush consisting of two or three marten’s hairs. Using a strong binocular magnifying instrument, he recreates the atmosphere and the emotional vibrations of the work to be reproduced in miniature. This involves a few touches of colour on the chosen shade, placed in successive points in an extremely precise order, moving throughout the entire process from the softer shades to the purer, brighter ones. The extremely fine powders and pigments used for miniature enamel paintings are blended with oils such as lily flower oil, to make them easier to apply.
After around twenty firings in the oven at temperatures of between 800 and 850 degrees Celsius, the work begins to take on its final appearance. During these various stages, the colours are vitrified by the heat and progressively change, become more intense and retract. The enameller’s experience plays an essential and determining role. The furnace firing times must be carefully calculated according to the type and the quantity of matter applied, and their exact duration is part of the workshop secrets carefully preserved by the artist. The path leading to the final touch is strewn with all manner of pitfalls, and the fragile and sometimes refractory enamel is liable to “explode” each time it is removed from the furnace. The cooling stages thus require a great deal of patience to avoid sudden changes of temperature. A single wrong move can cause irreversible damage and force the artisan to begin all over again.
When the miniature enamelled painting has been completed and fired for the last time, it is generally coated with two or three layers of a finishing flux consisting of a transparent enamel serving to protect the work from the potential effects of ageing. Following the final firing of this flux (at 800°C), a fine polish with an abrasive stone is performed, followed by the final polishing operation after the last vitrification in order to achieve the full radiance and pictorial splendour of the work.
Vacheron Constantin is one of the rare watch companies to create such sophisticated enamelled dials. A discipline involving a sense of detail, rigorous care and infinite patience, enamelling is above all a daunting artistic challenge taken up by virtuoso artisans. In its role as guardian of the oldest and most precious traditional Geneva watchmaking skills, the Manufacture is determined to perpetuate such artistic crafts, driven by the firm conviction that they represent a truly priceless treasure.