With Les Cabinotiers, its special-order department, Vacheron Constantin keeps the tradition of offering clients the opportunity to create made-to-measure watches alive. While confidentiality surrounds the majority of these special requests, we managed to get permission from the client to take a look at a recent, major bespoke creation. And at a time when pocket watches may seem obsolete to many, at a time of mass-produced everything, it is pleasing to see that a brand and a watch enthusiast can still embark on a project spanning more than eight years and counting on highly skilled professionals and craftsmen to give birth to such a watch… Of course, you can tell the time by glancing at your phone or your smartwatch, but Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie “Tribute to Johannes Vermeer” Pocket Watch tells more than just time.
Indeed, this spectacular pocket watch is a testimony of human ingenuity, art and creativity. Commissioned by a collector whose “passion consists in always seeking the watch which is theoretically impossible to obtain”, it is a true masterpiece of Haute Horlogerie, engraving and miniature painting on enamel.
Starting with the movement, the watch is powered with a new 806-part hand-wound calibre, regulated by a one-minute tourbillon and comprising Grande and Petite Sonnerie Westminster chimes, coupled with a minute repeater. It is partially based on the movement of the Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260 – also a commissioned piece, which was and still is the most complicated watch ever created. Measuring 71 mm in diameter and 17 mm thick, this spectacular movement beats at 18,000 vibrations per hour. The Westminster chime is equipped with no fewer than five gongs, controlled by four racks. In “Grande Sonnerie” mode, the watch chimes the quarters in passing, with the hour repeated at each quarter; in “Petite Sonnerie” mode, it strikes the quarters at each change of quarter without repeating the hours; and at each change of hour, it strikes the fourth quarter – “the carillon” – as well as the hours. And the strike can be activated at any time by means of a slide.
As you would expect, there is a silence mode. But what is more unexpected is the smart “night silence” mode that has been adapted to the demand of the client: the chiming mechanism is deactivated between 11 PM and 9 AM, thus saving energy as well as ensuring a peaceful night. The hand-wound in-house calibre 3761 can be admired by lifting the back cover… And what a feast it is for the eyes. Its architecture is splendid and the decoration is simply exceptional. All the components are meticulously hand-finished with a fully engraved balance bridge and bridges with beautiful Geneva stripes.
This superb movement is presented in a large pocket watch that is 98mm in diameter. It is masterfully engraved (over five months by Emmanuelle Maridat, an engraver at Vacheron Constantin) with an ornamental theme representing acanthus leaves with scrolls and flowers with a pearl heart. The adornment of the case middle is graced by a double “pearl” border, a nod to the painting by Johannes Vermeer. The bow is a work of art in itself and incorporates two roaring lions.
Another smart detail, in the interest of safety for the delicately decorated and quite heavy cover, is that the hinged officer-type caseback features a mechanism to half-open the caseback by pressing the crown-integrated pusher. A cone-shaped titanium pin serves as the hinge, concealed by gold screws, while a spring using approximately 90° of the case angle slows down the closing of the enamelled and engraved caseback.
The main watch dial is Grand Feu enamel in a beautiful eggshell colour with blue enamel Arabic numerals paired with golden hands.
The officer-type cover has been used as the canvas for a miniature painting by one of the most revered (if not the most revered) enamel artists in the watch industry: Anita Porchet. This masterpiece reproduces the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. It required over seven months of work over the course of about two years (2018-2020). The result is reminiscent of Geneva’s acclaimed tradition of miniature enamel painting. The technique refers to painted enamels covered with a flux known as the “Fondant de Genève”. By adding a final transparent protective coating to the layers of vitrified enamel, the enameller gives brilliance and depth to the work. Altogether over 20 firings were needed to stabilize the colours.
The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie “Tribute to Johannes Vermeer” Pocket watch (reference 9910C/000J-B413) is a pinnacle of horological art… Kudos to the people involved in its creation and making. It is, as you’ve guessed, a unique piece and the price (and the name of the owner) will remain undisclosed.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com.