Watches & Wonders Shanghai: Sail Away With Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers D’Art Tribute To Explorer Naturalists
The HMS Beagle is one of the most famous vessels in maritime history. Originally constructed as gun brig-sloops for the Royal Navy, the ship took part in celebrations of the coronation of King George IV and was the first rigged man-of-war to travel upriver on the Thames.
But the Beagle’s most important contribution to naval lore was its second life as a survey barque and its three legendary voyages around South America, Africa, and Australia.
The stories of these adventures take in the work of scientists and explorers such as Charles Darwin, who observed the world to expand Western knowledge of far-flung flora and fauna.
Now Vacheron Constantin is writing a new chapter in this natural history with its Métiers d’Art collection with a quartet of “Tribute to Explorer Naturalists” ten-piece limited editions.
Arround the World
Humankind is still looking to understand our place on this planet, and it doesn’t hurt to look back at the work of the explorer naturalists who traveled the world's oceans aboard the English ship Beagle in the early 1830s.
VC’s Métiers d’Art collection has always been about storytelling, by passing on important watchmaking skills and techniques as well as by using this artistry to enshrine important moments in time.
With the Tribute to Explorer Naturalists, the maison presents four horological tableaux, each one expressing the crossroads of science and art.
Each of these mini-masterpieces of engraving and enamel painting – framed by a 41mm 18K gold case – is powered by the iconic manufacture Calibre 1120 AT/1 with satellite wandering hours. This streamlined, self-winding mechanism was chosen because its slender size allowed the maison’s artisans more room to range.
The unique movement is not the only element that allows VC’s designers and artisans to explore: The Métiers d’Art’s unique time display takes its wearer on a visual journey as well.
The hour wheel is hidden under the upper portion of the dial. It is equipped with three arms, each bearing four Arabic numerals in turn directed by a cam shaped like the Manufacture’s Maltese cross emblem. This satellite module powers the wandering hours that travel across the dial. Meanwhile, a fixed-minute track covers a 120-degree arc.
Cape Verde (January 1832)
Viewed through a sapphire display back, the movement is as compelling as a siren’s song, but at the same time it doesn’t get in the way of the artistic tale that decorates the dial. In the first instance, it’s the story of the Beagle’s exploration of Cape Verde.
On the upper part of the dial, engraving and enameling combine to trace the majestic silhouette of the Beagle, its billowing sails full as it sails across a hand-painted ocean. The lower part of the dial depicts bouquets of resplendent local flowers.
Straits of Magellan (1833/1834)
While each voyage of the Beagle brought new knowledge to Britain, this collection also honors Vacheron Constantine’s traditions. The movements are adorned with finishes that pay homage to traditional high watchmaking decorations, such as the Côtes de Genève pattern swept over by the 22K gold oscillating weight adorned with a compass rose.
But the Maison has also found new ways to interpret history, much as the naturalists aboard the Beagle were able to view history through a modern lens. For example, while the remote Strait of Magellan was discovered some 300 years before her voyage (by the explorer whose name it bears) the 19th-century explorers discovered abundant vegetation where palm leaves mingled with ferns.
This lush foliage is reproduced on the lower part of the dial, using enamels carefully layered over several kiln firings. The upper part of the dial is graced with a fine white gold engraving showing the Beagle sailing on blue-enameled waves.
Tierra del Fuego (1833-1834)
Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) is the archipelago at the southernmost tip of the South American continent. It has also been called “The End of the Earth.” Despite its imposing monikers, the naturalists travelling aboard the Beagle found the landscape to be full of enchanting flora and fauna.
Vacheron Constantin's artisans used period engravings to recreate the lush scenery the naturalists aboard the Beagle encountered. Housed in a white gold case, the upper dial features an engraving of a butterfly and two birds set against a hand-painted verdant landscape.
On the lower part of the dial, an ancient terrestrial map of Tierra del Fuego is reproduced in miniature enamel, along with a windrose – a diagram that shows the relative frequency, or frequency and strength, of winds from different directions – as a nod to the world of maritime travel.
Cape of Good Hope (May 1836)
The last chapter of the Métiers d’Art Tribute to Explorer Naturalists tells the story of the Beagle’s return to Europe, where the crew navigated its way along the coast of the African continent and the perilous Cape of Good Hope.
Here, the passage is represented by a miniature enamel maritime scene on the lower half of the dial. Anyone lucky enough to hold this piece will be drawn in by the intricacies of the fine enameling. No detail of the Beagle has been missed.
To put the story into a contemporary context, the upper part of the dial depicts a landscape resembling a Garden of Eden, just as the naturalists observed when they stopped off at the Cape of Good Hope.
The delicate plumage of the birds perched amid the foliage and the languid silhouette of an iguana in repose remind us just how delicate the balance of our whole planet’s ecosystem is.