Forming the perfect couple and embodying the balance between strength and grace, the Phoenix and the Dragon have been intimately bound up with Chinese culture for centuries. Given their status as supernatural harbingers of peace and symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, any sightings of one or both through the ages were considered to herald a glorious period of peace and prosperity of the people and the country as a whole. This is reflected in the Chinese saying: “When the dragon soars and the phoenix dances, the people will enjoy happiness for years, bringing peace and tranquillity to all under heaven.”
Although the details of their morphology vary from period to period, dragons are invariably composite creatures to symbolise the unity of power, featuring various body parts derived from snakes, alligators, lizards, carp, eagles and tigers. Inhabiting palaces beneath the oceans, dragons had the power to regulate the water essential for corps, ending droughts and stopping floods. Another supernatural ‘spirit’, the Phoenix—king of birds whose finery is inspired by the peacock, pheasant, parrot, duck, rock and crane—embodies the five essential virtues of benevolence, righteousness, prosperity, sincerity and wisdom.
Highly revered and much-loved, these fabled creatures have thus been subject of some of the most beautiful representations in Chinese mythology, where they are often seen dancing around a magic pearl, signifying harmony. Images of the dragon and the phoenix appear on ceremonial jade ornaments and have been carved, painted or sewn into objects for everyday use—an artisanal custom that has been passed down through the ages.
Vacheron Constantin honours these legendary creatures by giving free rein to its design workshop and its artisans to represent them. The Traditionnelle tourbillon watch illustrates the dance of Phoenix and Dragon around the pearl, a distinctive cultural symbol of China. The finishing of the latter indeed evolved during the production process: the pearl was initially to be polished and the flames sandblasted, whereas in fact the opposite was done manually due to its extreme thinness (3/10 of a mm).
This change served to endow the model with genuine radiance thanks to these animals. The two fabulous creatures are represented in the form of 18K 5N pink gold appliques that are stamped and then hand-finished using the pounced ornament technique that involves modelling with a scorper and then smoothing the reliefs with a file. Together, the fine details and precise operations used to represent the plumage of the phoenix with a rooster’s head symbolising the Chinese empress; and the undulating body of the scale-covered dragon emblematic of the emperor, orchestrate a heavenly choreography.
Thanks to the mobile tourbillon carriage shaped like Vacheron Constantin’s Maltese cross emblem, the entire scene comes to life, with the regulator serving as a support for one of the dragon’s legs, while the beating of the phoenix’s wings appears to set the tempo. Depending on the galvanic treatment applied to the hand-guilloché dial, it adopts a black, deep blue or silver-toned hue, giving impressive depth to this mythological scene.
On the bezel and lugs, the sky is symbolised by a succession of volutes, carved in bas-relief. This technique consists of removing material to highlight the contours of the sculpture. After drawing the motifs with a tracing point, the engraver works the decoration with a scorper, like a chasing operation that is ever-more refined as the tool becomes sharper. Volumes take shape, thanks to a delicate alternation of matt and glossy finishes.
Operating at rate of 18,000 vibrations per hour (2.5 Hz) and positioned at 6 o’clock, the tourbillon—whose carriage bears the small seconds indication by means of a blackened screw—enlivens this ‘carnival of the animals’. The movement construction incorporates a peripheral rotor winding the barrel to ensure a comfortable 80-hour power reserve. The choice of the peripheral rotor also contributes to the slenderness of Calibre 2160 which, despite the presence of the tourbillon, is barely 5.65 mm thick.
This ultra-thin movement with its 188 components has made it possible to offer an 18K pink gold case with a total thickness of 11.21 mm and a 41 mm diameter that is suitable for all wrists. The bar of the tourbillon carriage is entirely hand-bevelled, as are the movement components. The mainplate is circular-grained on the dial side, while the bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève on the back.
Paired with a black, deep blue or brown alligator leather strap, depending on the model, secured a folding clasp and available in a limited boutique edition of 16 timepieces for each dial colour, the Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Tourbillon Phoenix and Dragon watch embodies a perfect symbiosis of artistic crafts and fine watchmaking.