Of the many arms races in fine watchmaking, covering those of thinness, lightness, grandes complications and even the loudness of a striking mechanism, the most recherché is that of métiers d’art.
Rare handcrafts, as the best translation has it, is the pursuit of exquisite, often microscopic dial and case decoration, practiced by only a handful of top-end watch houses. It involves techniques mastered by an increasingly small tribe of elite artisans, such as enameling, engraving, miniature painting, marquetry and guillochage.
When Vacheron Constantin, one of the Swiss métiers d’art superpowers, fires off a collection of unique métiers d’art watches, it creates a watchmaking thunderclap that sends collectors and watch enthusiasts into a kind of well-mannered frenzy.
This weekend, in the stultifying heat of Singapore, the Genevan maison introduced the “La Musique du Temps” collection, a spellbinding series of 11 chiming watches. Each comes with a soaring price tag, starting from €150,000 (approximately $165,000) and increasingly endlessly from there. The company says the sky’s the limit after that. It’s already a footnote in watchmaking history.
The collection is the work of Les Cabinotiers, Vacheron’s personalization uber-division and the same crack team that delivered (to order) the Ref. 57260 of 2015, the world’s most complicated watch.
A neat twist is that each piece is supplied with a ‘sonic print’—a certificate produced by Vacheron’s friends at London’s iconic Abbey Road Studios. The studios recorded each of the chiming watches in part for posterity but also so that when they’re returned for servicing they can be checked against their sonic DNA.
Robb Report was at the launch. The collection was shown to customers before press, and some are apparently, already sold. Take a closer look at all the watches below.
‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie–The Sixth Symphony
It’s hard to determine a headline piece among so many headliners, but with a price tag reportedly over seven figures, this probably deserves first mention. The Symphonia Grande Sonnerie has the harmonic combination of a minute repeater that chimes the time on demand, and both grande and petite sonnerie functions. In grande sonnerie mode, it chimes on the hour and quarter-hour, and the time on each occasion; in petite sonnerie mode, just on the hour and quarter hour. The complexity of such a movement is off-the-chart, as is the energy management system. In grande sonnerie mode, the striking mechanism kicks in 96 times a day, with a total of 912 hammer strikes on the watch’s gongs. With that workload, the fact that the strikework power reserve needs winding only once every 20 hours is astonishing. The hand-guilloché dial has a ‘vieux panier circulaire‘ décor, while the piece gets its name from the case band, which is hand-engraved with the (non-chiming) score from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.
‘La Musique du Temps’Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Tourbillon–Four Seasons
Four watches, four minute-repeating tourbillons, and four unique dials, each decorated with a seasonal pond scene depicting swimming carp. The process behind each three-dimensional dial begins with 60 hours of ‘bas-relief’ engraving. The cavities this creates are then embedded with enamel, using a technique known as champlevé enameling. Word is the set has been purchased by a single collector.
‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin—A Romantic Note
The simplest of the new collection (face-up, anyway) is this ultra-thin, minute-repeating charmer, which appears no more complex than its Grand Feu enameled ‘coquille d’oeuf’ (or eggshell) dial suggests. And yet inside its 18-carat pink gold case is a calibre measuring a mere 3.9 mm thick that manages to deliver both an on-demand chiming function and a 65-hour power reserve.
‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar—A Perfect Combination
Squeezing multiple indications onto a single dial is a design headache, but Vacheron is one of the masters of the art, as this pair of minute-repeating perpetual calendar models demonstrate. Both the 18-carat white and pink gold versions have hand-guilloché silvered sunray dials displaying, without fuss, all the indications expected of a perpetual calendar.
‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin—The Dance of Gemstones
There’s a temptation to see this duo as a his-and-hers combo, which it could be, although with rubies set into both Grand Feu enamel dials and cases of 41 mm and 39 mm, neither can claim to be designed for any one gender. Instead, they’re a parallel pair, both powered by the minute-repeating 1731 calibre, named after the year of Jean-Marc Vacheron’s birth. The diamonds set into the bezel of the smaller piece amount to 1.9 carats.
‘La Musique du Temps’ Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Tourbillon Sky Chart—A Celestial Note
By no means the least of the 11 piece-unique La Musique du Temps models, this inky blue beauty features a minute repeater, a tourbillon and a celestial sky-chart on the case back that’s configured to sidereal time (measured against the stars, rather than the sun) and shows the position of the stars from the northern hemisphere. The dizzying effect is heightened by a spiraling 18-carat gold, hand-guilloché, sunray-finished blue dial.