Luxury watches now invite comparisons with fine art, largely because of the stratospheric prices paid for some pre-owned and limited models. But few draw a more compelling aesthetic parallel between watches and art than the pieces of Vacheron Constantin. The New York flagship of the brand at 57and Street reserves spaces dedicated to regular art exhibitions, often establishing links between the installations and the world of watchmaking. The latest exhibit, themed “The Anatomy of Beauty,” is a celebration of inner and outer beauty in nature-inspired art and mechanical timepieces.
The wall of the flagship’s two-story atrium is covered in a three-dimensional mixed-media installation by LA artist Courtney Mattison depicting corals and other invertebrates that live under the sea. The coral is juxtaposed with larger-than-life photographs and videos in portholes showing the inner workings of watch movements, like under magnifying glasses. Meanwhile, the store’s back gallery space is occupied by a work titled “These Waters,” an immersive sculptural installation created by New York-based artist Melissa McGill for Vacheron Constantin. It is composed of five large format photographs of the Hudson River in New York imposed on glass panels. The panels lean against each other and against the wall, appearing to be portals to the waters, their size and location evoking the rise and fall of the tides. “It aims to inspire conversation about the preciousness of water, our life force,” says a statement from Vacheron.
The watches on display, both from archives and current collections, have been chosen for their trades dials and their gears, in keeping with the theme of inner and outer beauty. Some are decorated with finely decorated dials, using miniature painting, enamelling, guillochage, engraving or setting. Others are skeletonized, demonstrating that true beauty is deep.
They are juxtaposed with models from Vacheron Constantin’s current collection that represent modern interpretations of the brand’s historic savoir-faire, including a fully gem-set ladies’ watch from the Egerie collection and the Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar. The exhibition runs until the end of September at the Vacheron Constantin flagship store on 57th Street in New York.
Minute Vacheron Constantin Repeater Ref. 30030
A skeletonized version of Vacheron’s emblematic minute repeater, reference 30030, the movement of this watch has been entirely skeletonized and engraved by hand. Nearly 50% of the metal from the original caliber 1755 has been removed resulting in an intricately sculpted lace of metal. This one, made in 2006, is one of 15 pieces created in platinum.
Vacheron Constantin 2009 Traditionelle Ultra-Thin Skeleton
The Skeleton Ultra-Plate Traditionelle, made in 2009, is just 30mm wide and set with 64 diamonds, making it something of a rarity: a ladies’ watch with a skeletonized manual movement. This is true skeleton work in the traditional sense, with the mainplate and remaining bridges engraved with elaborate scroll patterns. It is manufactured according to Poinçon de Genève standards.
Vacheron Constantin Jumping Hour Ref. 43040
The Jumping Hour has been a Vacheron Constantin specialty since 1824. This platinum piece, produced in 1995, is one of 150 reference 43040 models made in platinum in the early 1990s. The onyx minute index moves mysteriously around the dial, visible only through a slit, a signature display found on Vacheron Constantin pocket watches from 1929.
Vacheron Constantin 1929 pocket watch signed by Charlton & Co.
A yellow and white gold pocket watch, with a retrograde hour scale on the left, and a retrograde minute scale on the right, with a gold eagle in the centre. Made in 1929, it is double signed by Charlton & Co, an American jeweler founded in 1909 in New York before expanding to Palm Beach in Florida and rue de la Paix in Paris.
Vacheron Constantin 1952 Enamel Pocket Watch
This enamel watch was painted by Carlo Poluzzi, considered one of the greatest enamel painters in the watchmaking world. He signs many pieces for Vacheron Constantin. This one, made in 1952, represents a Hunting with hounds (hunting with hounds).
Vacheron Constantin 1822 Engraved and gem-set yellow gold pocket watch
An engraved and gem-set yellow gold pocket watch from 1822. The case is hollowed out and then engraved to create domes, pearls and rosettes in a Baroque-inspired style. The technique, known as cleaning, is similar to sculpture and is often associated with Renaissance jewelry. It is also set with several large amethysts in shaded colors.