Vacheron Constantin’s Tribute To Great Explorers Celebrates Portuguese Explorers

Vacheron Constantin’s Newest Métiers D’Art Pieces Celebrate Portuguese Explorers Of The Unknown

When craftsmanship meets history, the combination is unmistakably exceptional.

By Viviana Shanks

Presented at Watches & Wonders 2021, the newest Vacheron Constantin Métiers d'Art pieces, the Tribute to Great Explorers, did not get even half of the attention they deserved.

This series of three 10-piece limited edition watches with miniature Grand Feu enamel dials pay tribute to three great Portuguese explorers who ventured into the unknown and made history.

History Unfolds 

First and foremost, as Watchonista’s Portuguese writer-in-residence, I grew up with the tales of great Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral. In all honesty, Portuguese history was probably my most favorite subject in school. Why? Well, the determination of the Portuguese people to never give up on challenges is outstanding and quite honestly inspiring. And this writer was more than inspired by the three sailors Vacheron Constantin chose to represent on their latest Métiers d'Art Tribute to Great Explorers series.

Bartolomeu Dias’ history is not as well-known as the two other explorers. However, his discoveries eventually led to a direct trade route between Europe and Asia. Bartolomeu Dias (1450-1500) was the first European explorer to reach the southern tip of Africa and discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. I remember my teacher telling us that he was the first explorer to prove that the Cape of Good Hope (initially called the Cape of Storms) was not the gates of hell, where legends say monsters lived in the waters, and no one ever came back alive.

The most famous Portuguese explorer must be Vasco da Gama (c. 1460s-1524). He was the first European explorer to reach India by sea via the Cape of Good Hope route discovered earlier by Bartolomeu Dias. The previous path was dangerous, passing by the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Peninsula. To arrive safely in India, he sailed close to the African coast and then headed further east until arriving in Kozhikode (also known as Calicut), the "City of Spices," in present-day Kerala. Exploring the unknown against all odds, he opened a new page of exploration history.

Pedro Álvares Cabral (c. 1467-c. 1520), following Vasco da Gama's footsteps, was tasked to travel to the Indies and continue the work Vasco da Gama started. To avoid contrary winds and currents, he changed his route, making it utterly different from the one Vasco da Gama used. Instead of following the coast of Africa, Pedro Álvares Cabral headed south then west until he finally discovered Brazil.

The Journey 

Inspired and guided by a map from the 1519 Miller Atlas, which is on display at the Navy Museum in Lisbon (Museu de Marinha), Vacheron Constantin's masterful artisans retraced the extraordinary journey of these three explorers from the Age of Discovery. Done in Grand Feu enamel, Vacheron Constantin artisans crafted a perfect miniature representation of the famous atlas and captured the delicacy of its colors.

On each Métiers d'Art Tribute to Great Explorers piece, the featured landmass is outlined by a green line highlighted with a gold-colored enamel powder. The land is decorated with detailed depictions of its flora and fauna and prominent land features. The details are a delight to look at, and you can only admire how intricate and delicate the dials are.

The explorer's journey is represented by a red enamel line, along which their expeditions ships are also depicted. And if you look closer, you can see the silhouettes of the crew.

Enamel-working is a rare skill, and only a few people in the world are capable of mastering the art. Yet each 41mm dial is handmade by an enameller and takes a lot of patience and precision. The dial needs 11 firings at a temperature from 800 to 900 degrees Celsius and takes the artisan a month to complete, with no room for mistakes.

Horological Expertise

Vacheron Constantin is a Maison that does it all. The brand does outstanding enamel work and has a significant portfolio of calibres that could be described as “classic with a twist.”

Powered by the Calibre 1120 AT, the Métiers d'Art Tribute to Great Explorers timepieces have an offset display of the time, allowing the wearer to travel visually through the dial as time passes. Carefully hidden under the upper section of the two-part dial, the hour wheel is equipped with three Maltese cross-shaped arms. The satellite-like architecture allows the hours to sweep from top of the dial to bottom, sailing across the enameled minutes circle.

Made for lovers of history and craftsmanship, each of the three Métiers d'Art Tribute to Great Explorers timepieces is limited to 10 pieces and is priced at $121,000.

(Images © Vacheron Constantin)

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