Swiss luxury watchmaker Vacheron Constantin illustrates an unexpected encounter between tradition and modernity in its Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-day tourbillon openworked model, the novelty timepiece which was unveiled at SIHH 2014.
Combining the tourbillon complication with the art of openworking, both of which were born at the dawn of the 19th century, the Manufacture transcends the codes of these ancestral skills to offer an eminently contemporary composition. Playing with a double three-dimensional effect stemming both from the architecture of the 2260 SQ movement and from its Gothic inspiration, the model displays impressive depth highlighted by components featuring cleverly destructured lines.
While the first tourbillon emerged in 1801, the ability to develop and craft this horological complication in-house remains the exclusive preserve of a rare circle of Manufactures. Those able to openwork such a demanding calibre are an even rarer breed and among them, very few also rise to the challenge of endowing it with a 14-day power reserve. Vacheron Constantin belongs to this exclusive circle.
Combining a tourbillon with such an impressive power reserve calls for a specific construction. The Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-day tourbillon openworked comprises no less than four barrels stacked in pairs in the upper part of the movement, making it more ‘crowded’ than the lower part. Vacheron Constantin tamed these differences in volume by structuring its Calibre 2260 SQP in layers and thus creating a depth effect that the Manufacture has accentuated through an engraving motif specially designed to exalt the three dimensional effect.
Traditionally, engraving artisans follow the line or curve of the hollowed bridges and main plate in giving life to an openworked calibre. This is in itself an extremely delicate task that involves ensuring that the components interact to perfection despite the removal of material, and to create transparency effects that will reveal the slightest imperfection and can thus tolerate no mistakes.
Constantly on the look-out for fresh challenges, Vacheron Constantin lays a new milestone in this demanding art by adopting an approach well off the beaten track in its Calibre 2260 SQ. In order to ensure that the openwork echoes the distinctive movement architecture, the Manufacture has undertaken stylistic research on the theme of “shapes within shapes”. Overturning classic conventions governing aesthetic equilibrium, certain mechanical elements form Gothic-inspired ribbed vaults, disrupting lines and destructuring curves. The three dimensional construction of the calibre is highlighted by a fresh interplay of light and structure; the sense of depth and height is further accentuated; while the contrasts between the matt and polished finishes infuse the model with unique radiance.
While openworking stems from purely aesthetic considerations, it nonetheless makes each stage even more complex compared with a solid calibre. Striking such a subtle balance between openworking and functionality thus calls for an average two months for the conception and modelisation phases alone, as well as long hours of hand-drawing, chamfering and engraving. All these operations require nimble fingers as well as infinite patience. This is an art in which the Manufacture Vacheron Constantin excels, and which it has been faithfully exercising by hand ever since the first openworked and engraved balance-cock produced at the time of its founding almost 260 years ago. Calibre 2260 SQ is entirely in tune with this longstanding hand-crafted tradition. It’s distinctive layered construction results in a substantial surface to be decorated and thus implies even more manual workmanship. Compared with the solid base movement, a single 2260 SQ calibre requires 10 additional hours of chamfering and hand-drawing, as well as 40 extra hours of engraving.
At Vacheron Constantin, excellence and concern for detail are not confined to the movement, however exceptional it may be. The fascinating mechanical architecture of Calibre 2260 SQ is housed in due style within the pure lines of a precious platinum case. Dispensing with a central dial, the Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-day tourbillon openworked model instead features an elegant slate-grey ring around its inner rim, graced with white gold hour-markers. The tourbillon carriage at 6 o’clock spins over a Maltese Cross, sweeping the small seconds hand in its wake.
From the mechanism to the exterior, everything about this new creation from Vacheron Constantin embodies perfect execution. The watch indeed bears the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva, the highest benchmark of Fine Watchmaking testifying to the quality, the craftsmanship and the reliability of an exceptional timepiece crafted within the confines of Canton Geneva.
Far more than a mere object of mechanical excellence indicating the time, a timepiece by Vacheron Constantin is by essence destined to be a full-fledged work of art capable of revealing all the beauty of unique expertise enriched by over 260 years of history. Ever since it’s founding in 1755, the Manufacture has consistently enhanced the beauty of its creations through artistic crafts exercised by skilled artisans. Hand engraving is one such technique. A demanding art calling for exceptional patience and dexterity, it was used right from the start as a means of achieving ethereal lightness.
The first watch created by Jean-Marc Vacheron in 1755 already featured an openworked and engraved balance-cock. The quest for transparency then continued, with increasingly finely fashioned mechanical parts, leading to the creation in 1924 of the first entirely openworked calibre beating at the heart of a pocket watch. A past master in the practice of this extremely intricate discipline, Vacheron Constantin has given free rein to its creativity, progressively openworking both simple and complicated calibres, associating them according to its inspiration with other artistic crafts, and interpreting these miniature marvels both on pocket-watches and wristwatches from the 1960s onwards.
Not content with being one of the rare manufacturers capable of openworking such complex calibres as minute repeaters, perpetual calendars and tourbillons, Vacheron Constantin once again pushes the boundaries of its art by reinventing both the technique itself and the aesthetic codes governing it. The engraving thus becomes a sculpture, as the straight lines morph into interlacing curves, while the watch parts become architectural works creating mesmerising light effects.
While openworking is a purely aesthetic approach in itself, it nonetheless induces additional complexity at each stage compared with a solid calibre. Everything begins with a lengthy consideration of the movement that is to be openworked as much as possible so as to reveal its inner beauty. This calls upon the full wealth of experience of the finest master watchmakers, since it involves achieving a subtle balance between hollowing out as much of the material as possible, while ensuring that the calibre remains perfectly functional. The conceptualisation, design and modelisation phases take several hundred hours, a figure that increases in step with the level of sophistication of the calibre, particularly in terms of complications.
Once this subtle balance has been found, the artisans take over, marking the start of a long period of patient, accurate and rigorously disciplined endeavours. The mainplate, bridges, barrel and other mechanical parts that have been previously drilled and cut out occupy their nimble fingers for dozens of hours until they are ready to reveal their appealing new face.
Working by hand with each component in turn, the artisans create subtle contrasts between the finished polish of the chamfering that will catch the light, and the matt effect of the hand drawing that will accentuate the radiance. While this is in itself a demanding task, it is rendered even more complex by the curved openings and interior angles – some narrower than 45° – favoured by Vacheron Constantin in its openworked creations, and which no machine could possible reproduce.
The chamfering and hand-drawing are followed by the engraving itself. For around one full week for each calibre, the engraver incises and sculpts the material with meticulous strokes of the burin in order to create the original motifs imagined by Vacheron Constantin, giving them their delightfully rounded relief. Each gesture is highly accurate – in some cases to the nearest tenth of a millimetre – and the aesthetic sensitivity of the artist-artisan is finely attuned to instilling each component with unique character.
Assembling and adjusting an openworked calibre is a particularly complex task, since the loss of material resulting from the openworking inevitably leads to certain distortions of the parts. For the watchmaker, this means retouching them again and again until their impeccable interaction is guaranteed. Throughout this lengthy process, he makes sure that no dust settles in the hollowed-out surfaces, and also carefully complies with the extremely stringent standards imposed by the Hallmark of Geneva. He devotes special attention to each part, notably the chamfered parts, so as to ensure their perfect aesthetic and functional execution.
This perfection is once again severely tested when casing up the movement, since the transparency stemming from the openworking highlights every single perfection, however tiny. Well before the start of the long sequence of water-resistance, reliability and precision testing begins, the calibre returns several times to the workbench until the full magic of a masterfully executed openworked movement begins to weave its spell. Just as in other fields, the exceptional in terms of horology stems from an ideal blend of excellence and patience.
Patrimony Traditionnelle 14-day tourbillon openworked
Hallmark of Geneva certified timepiece
Calibre 2260 SQ
Developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin
29.10 mm (12 ’’’ ¾ ) diameter
6.80 mm thick
Approximately 336 power reserve
2.5Hz (18’000 vibrations/hour)
Small seconds at 6 o’clock on tourbillon carriage
42.00 mm diameter, 12.22 mm thick
Transparent sapphire crystal caseback
Water-resistance tested at a pressure of 3 bar (approx. 30 meters)
Slate-colored external ring with 18K white gold applied hour-markers and white minute-track
Black Mississippiensis alligator leather, hand-stitched, saddle-finish, large square scales
Clasp:Triple-blade folding clasp in platinum 950
Polished half Maltese cross-shaped