Vacheron Constantin’s approach to time measurement finds its ultimate expression when technical sophistication is enhanced by the talent of art masters and by hand finishing consistent with the tenets of Haute Horlogerie. All of which is perfectly illustrated in four one-of-a-kind Les Cabinotiers – the singing birds models. Masterpieces of champlevé painted enamel, the enchanting bucolic scenes on the dials offer a poetic interpretation of “La Musique du Temps®”, a theme imagined by the Les Cabinotiers department and honoured here by the imaginary song of the birds.
Perfect mastery of volumes and craftsmanship techniques is essential on these models featuring a two-tiered dial. The work on the two dial sections – one enamelled and concealing the module driving the hours and minutes, while the other guilloché area serves to display these indications – requires great precision in the fine adjustment of these two elements endowing this model with its innate elegance.
To create these strikingly realistic dials, Vacheron Constantin’s master enameller used the champlevé painted enamel technique. This consists of hollowing out of the dial material thin alveoli, designed as receptacles for the enamel delicately applied with a brush. Performed using binoculars, this work is all the more complex due to the rich palette of colours. To give life to the birds, the master artisan has in fact extended his palette to some 10 colours and their subtly graded shades for each of the dials, representing the fruit of intense research and extreme dexterity in their application.
Mastery of fire is also indispensable, given that enamel – a mineral material – must be melted to achieve its inimitable translucent brilliance. As the birds take shape under the expert hand of the craftsman, the piece requires successive firings in the kiln to gradually fix the colours in place, which is a risky operation for the work already performed. The right-hand section of the dials, consisting of a sector for displaying the hours and minutes, is finely hand guilloché and then coloured to bring out the basket-weave motifs.
The Maison has chosen birds embodying powerful symbolism. The hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird and capable of flapping its wings up to 200 times a second, is represented in shades of green, feeding on flower nectar. The blue jay, sentinel of the forests, warns its fellow birds of the presence of predators, accompanying its cries with a few loud wing flaps. Appearing against a brown backdrop, the blue tit with its bright eye highlighted by a brush stroke signals its presence to those who would like to take its place. A robin rests on the dial adorned with burgundy hues. Framed by elegant 40 mm-diameter cases in pink gold, or white gold for the robin, these dials are a true invitation to dream and to contemplate the wonders of nature. Each timepiece is fitted with an alligator leather strap in a colour matching that of the dial.
A calibre with satellite hours and minutes
Driven by a concern for formal purity, the Maison has opted for the in-house self-winding 1120 AT calibre because of its slimness and reliability. Developed in the 1960s, this movement immediately attracted the attention of specialists and collectors, not only for its 2.45 mm thickness but also for its construction, which is considered to be a model of horological engineering.
Over the decades, this ultra-thin movement has been interpreted through different variations with additional functions, including this 1120 AT version. Despite its satellite hours and minutes module on the reverse side and its guilloché gold oscillating weight winding the barrel on the back of the movement, it is only 5.45 mm thick and housed in a 12.37 mm case. The most notable specific feature of the calibre lies in the time indications. The display appears on a 120° sector bearing applied minutes. The satellite hours are thus of the dragging variety with three arms, each carrying a four-digit rotating disc and taking turns along the minutes scale.
Les Cabinotiers: one-of-a-kind creations
In the Vacheron Constantin universe, Les Cabinotiers represents a department in its own right dedicated to the personalisation of models and to unique creations. This tradition dates back to the 18th century, a time when master watchmakers were called cabinotiers and worked in ateliers bathed in natural light, known as cabinets and located on the top floors of Geneva’s buildings. In the hands of these learned artisans, open to the new ideas of the Enlightenment, exceptional timepieces were born, inspired by astronomy, mechanical engineering and the arts. This expertise, which constitutes the great Geneva watchmaking tradition, has been flowing through Vacheron Constantin’s veins since 1755.