Vanitas – L’EPEE 1839 by Fiona Krüger

The horological creation Vanitas is born out of a partnership between Fiona Krüger and L’Epée 1839, Switzerland’s specialised high-end clock manufacturer, founded in 1839.

The Skull is the ultimate symbol of life, death and human experience – as such it has played a key role in both Horological History and Art History. Through Fiona Krüger’s artistic approach to Haute Horlogerie and L’Epée’s know-how, the Skull has been re-interpreted into a mechanical Vanitas painting for the 21st Century.

A Vanitas is a still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects to remind the viewer of the transience of life. This was an important and popular genre of painting in the 1600’s and includes symbols like skulls and extinguished candles.

Engineered and crafted by L’Epée 1839, the Vanitas clock reminds you to celebrate life. The hours and minutes are shown by the clock’s hands, and a power reserve indicator is integrated into the mouth of the skull. As Vanitas loses power it starts to yawn, indicating it needs to be wound up. Though with a 35-day power-reserve, this monthly ritual will give you a moment to stop and take stock of the time you have.

Fiona’s Fine Art and Design training, combined with her international upbringing are apparent in the design of this mechanical symbol. Having spent part of her childhood in Mexico City her vivid memories of the Dia de los Muertos festival have influenced her own skull collection and this latest collaboration with L’Epée. This mechanical Vanitas is rich in symbolism but also in humour.

The bridges of the clock are intricately detailed, designed to build up into a pattern which ultimately forms this ornate skull.

Creativity is at the heart of both L’Epée 1839 and Fiona Krüger Timepieces. The challenge was really to create this modern day Vanitas with a humorous twist. The new “yawning” power reserve indicator required a whole new development and re-engineering of the clock movement. It is a marriage between fantasy and purpose, which is at the core of the collaboration.

The ideas of life, time and mortality are synonymous and even more relevant in mechanical clock-making today than they have ever been. The unique design of the Skull imitating yawning as the power reserve depletes, joined with the ability to bring the clock to life as its wound up, reflects the history of clock making where fantasy, creativity and purpose were all incorporated in equal measure to create designs which made people dream.

When picturing a clock in your mind, everyone has a similar idea – round, 12 hours, two hands. Vanitas defies convention – the clock is itself a Skull, with mechanical eyes, a moving mouth and a distinctive case shape which frames the skull-shaped movement inside. The multi-layered bridges each have a specifically chosen finishing and décor, bringing depth to this sculptural skull. The hands bring a sense of familiarity to this innovative design which defies convention and brings together the worlds of Fine Art and Haute Horlogerie.

Next to all known contemporary Wall clocks, Vanitas stands out like a bold brush stroke on a blank canvas. This new co-creation features a frontal escapement, 2 barrel arbors as “pupils”, all designed to sculpt the mechanical skull’s face. Vanitas indicates the time by way of two hands which are centrally mounted on the nose.

These hand-polished hands indicate the hours and minutes, hiding and revealing the skull’s eyes as if it was playing hide-and-seek. Power reserve indicator: an indicator framed by two rows of teeth opens up as time passes, providing an intuitive view of remaining energy. When the mouth is completely opened (18.5mm apart from each other) the clock looks like it is “yawning” as a warning to its owner that it will go to sleep if some energy is not provided.

Vanitas is a luxury one-of-a-kind wall clock, featuring essentially the same mechanisms as a wristwatch, only larger: gear train, mainspring barrels (well, five in series), balance wheel, escape wheel and anchor. L’Epée’s regulator also features an Incabloc shock protection system, something generally only seen in wristwatches, which minimises the risk of damage when the clock is being transported.

Larger components, however, make finely finishing the movement much more challenging than finishing a wristwatch, because of the bigger surface areas.

Form follows function is a principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.

When it is reinterpreted by L’Epée 1839, the movement and the shape of the clock become one. The clock is no longer made of a movement and a housing which gives the shape of the clock. The movement itself defines the shape of the clock and the design cannot be recognized without the movement. The eyes are the barrels (two of them), the mouth is the power reserve, the philtra is the differential allowing the teeth to open up.

Vanitas is limited to 50 pieces per configuration and is now available in ‘dark’ and colourful editions.

Technical details

Hours and minutes
Power reserve indicator

Main structure
Height 306 mm
Width 220 mm
Thickness 86 mm
Clock Weight: Approx. 5 kg. with 2.2 kg just for the movement
‘Dark’ version: Mat Housing in Black Anodized Aluminum with mineral glass
Colored Version: Mat Housing in Black Anodized Aluminum with mineral glass

L’Epée in-house designed and manufactured movement
Balance frequency 18,000 vph / 2.5Hz
Barrels 5 in series
Power reserve 35 days
Jewels 11
Incabloc shock protection system
Manual-winding Double-ended key to set time and wind movement on the skull face

‘Dark’ version
Mechanism in palladium-coated brass
Movement Main plates in black PVD coated brass
Multi-layered screen printed white decoration (gloss ink).

Colored Version
Mechanism in palladium-coated brass
Movement Main plate in brass black PVD coating
Multi-coloured screen-printed pattern (gloss ink). Each colour used in the design of the clock was specially selected as it represents a specific meaning pertaining to the Dia de Los Muertos celebration: Blue = Trust, White = Purity, Orange = Sun, Yellow = Death, Pink = Celebration, Red = Life and Purple = Grief and Black = Mortality (hence the black PVD coating)

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