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The Chamber of Wonders trilogy: Girard-Perregaux maps the past

Girard-Perregaux comes back with three new versions of the Chamber of Wonders collection dedicated to cartographic knowledge in Renaissance Europe. The watchmaking brand transforms its dials into miniaturized infinite spaces.

By Joel Grandjean

European princes from the late 16th century enjoyed composing amazing collections of fabulous treasures, discoveries and unbelievable stories. Known as Chamber of Wonders, or Cabinets of Curiosities, these memories were exhibited in rooms which were real treasure caves. In an endeavor to combine these special visions of the world with hand-crafting methods, the brand from La Chaux-de-Fonds sets out on another adventure with the unlimited possibilities these spaces that preceded the first museum exhibitions offer.

What better place to house the creative initiatives of artists and craftsmen of infinitesimal workings other than the Chamber of Wonders collection? While the whole world is in awe of the rare skills that watchmaking has renamed as "métiers d'art", Girard-Perregaux continues this year to celebrate dexterity, meticulousness and patience in a most original way. An integral part of the Manufacture since 1791, these values have been given a new life in the confines of the dials of the new versions. They hint at poetry, sea adventures and fantasy but they also underline the successful combinations or the unlikely associations of rare materials and increasingly scarce techniques.

Sky and earth reflections

The cartographic representations and reinterpretations on the dials of the three 2016 Chamber of Wonders models are more than just proof of hand-crafting skills. Indeed, they celebrate the visions of scholars and leading figures in the history of humanity and give proof of the depth of their knowledge at the time. They also evoke what time teaches us about entrenched attitudes and make an indirect reference to the limitations and the relativity of ways of thinking, thus making creative expressions touching.

This year, the brand adds a new trilogy of numbered pieces to its Girard-Perregaux 1966 pink gold collection. They house an automatic in-house caliber with dials that either give a view of the earth from space or vice versa. These true interplanetary comings and goings introduce the Chamber of Wonders collection to new colored views on the past and an unprecedented understanding of reference objects related to universal History.

First model: “The Earth, Center of the Universe”

The Greco-Egyptian astrologer Ptolemy (one of the precursors of geography) lived in the city of Alexandria in early AD 100 and was fascinated by the interactions between the Earth and the moon and their impact on climate. Even if his vision of the Earth was incomplete, he already knew that it was round based on the latitude-longitude geometry grid that is still used today. His tract on geography and maps inspired the renowned Christopher Columbus who analyzed every detail of the maps to find additional motivations for the discovery of the New World.

Girard-Perregaux has crafted rare golden leaves as well as stone marquetry enhanced by the skills of craftspeople who specialize in miniaturized paintings. This results in a depth that can only be reproduced by sculpted stone in thin disks, which is then polished and affixed as jewels. Then, certain materials with different shades of blue – namely lapis lazuli and aventurine – or materials which reflect the opaque warmth of the white enamel were added to draw the oceans and the limits of the unknown. Brushes dipped in golden leaf were then used to delicately brush the surfaces, thus giving them shape and relief.  With endless patience the motifs that represented the solid Earth and its surroundings were created.

Second model : “The Sun, Centre of the Universe”

Whilst Geocentrism placed the Earth at the center of the universe, heliocentrism stipulated that celestial bodies, including the Earth, revolved around the Sun which was at a fixed point in the universe. This theory revolutionized scientific and philosophic ideas. Developed by Polish astrologer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the theory was published for the first time in Nuremberg in 1543 under the title “Revolutions and celestial bodies”. History reveals that the scholar had already come forward with the revolutionizing theories the world knows as “The Copernican Revolution” some thirty years earlier. Since then, it was established that the moon spins around the world which in turn, rotates on its axis and around the sun.

In Copernicus’s “24-hour renaissance”, the time the Earth takes to rotate on its axis and produce a new day is represented in appropriately warm and smooth colors through stone mosaics and miniature paintings. It somehow feels like the Earth is looking at the sun and becomes captivated by its incandescence. To achieve this, Girard-Perregaux used orange-hued aventurine and grey jade that it combined either with a sort of opaque brown-reddish chalcedony or with a cornelian with brighter and bolder red shades.

Similar to every cartographic interpretation produced on the dials of the Chamber of Wonders collection models, a series of different skills, such as miniature painting, were added to the initial watchmaking techniques.

Their final touch provides a powerful aesthetic aspect to the incredible visual construction patiently generated by assembling sculpted and polished stones.

Third model: “Celestial Globe” for the Sun King

Vicenzo Maria Coronelli (1650-1718) was a Franciscan friar who produced globes of the world. The cartographer, cosmographer and encyclopedist, who both was born and died in Venice, also had a PhD in theology. He produced two giant globes for Louis XIV, a.k.a., the Sun King, in Paris. Each of these had a 382mm diameter and weighed 2 tons. The first one was a representation of the Earth while the second one was a celestial representation of the sky as it was on September 5, 1638 – the day the king was born. 72 constellations out of the 1880 celestial bodies on the globe were in the form of fictional animals and mythological figures. The blued globe, painted by Jean-Baptiste Corneille, was made of twelve equal zones that symbolized the seasons when the Sun crosses zodiac constellations.

The third model of the 2016 Chamber of Wonders trilogy is a majestic ode to the endless shades of blue which were all affixed on the small space of a watch dial through engravings, galvanic treatments and golden leaf. The craftspeople at Girard-Perregaux brushed the gold leaf in the folds on the dial with as much of the dexterity of hand-engravers.

The piece also features the science of metallic treatment based on galvanoplastic alchemy and know-how of the delicate and subtle manipulation of sapphire. The last model of the Chamber of Wonders collection offers a refined exploration of the unlimited shades of blue.

Showcasing higher arts

If the second trilogy is anything to go by, and with the permanent (or so it seems) addition of the Chamber of Wonders family to its other collections, the brand shows that early watchmaking techniques are essentially carried out to integrate the most accomplished expression of art; i.e. the higher arts. Taking up the most daring challenges in the reinterpretation of history is one of the greatest traditions of one of the oldest manufactures. It represents the original encounter between manufacturing arts from a mountain region dedicated to excellent watchmaking and the multi-disciplinary knowledge of the discovery of the world.

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