Vacheron Constantin’s exquisite enamelling plays a supporting role as artist Yoko Imai’s watch dial debut takes centre stage.
by James Buttery
To even the most jaded of international travellers, flying into a major city at night is a fairly magical sight as the hustle and bustle of its denizens becomes apparent only by street lamp or the glow of brake lights in traffic.
Someone at Vacheron Constantin has clearly been inspired by just such a bird’s eye view as its new Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières collection seeks to reveal the nocturnal splendour of Geneva, Paris and Manhattan on its dials. The effect has been achieved using two metiers d’art techniques; one traditional and one entirely new to the world of decorative watchmaking.
While Vacheron is more than familiar with champlevé enamel – the technique of carving out recesses ready to take deposits of grand feu enamel – it called upon the unique skill of Parisian artist Yoko Imai to apply precious powders on top of the final enamel surface, reflecting the night-time illumination of a cityscape. Imai has carved out her own niche by developing an artistic style of calligraphy using inks mixed with diamond and pearl powders.
Once Vacheron’s artisans have carved out the topography of a city from the solid gold dial blanks and fired enamels representing built-up areas, green spaces and rivers, Imai sets to work adding her ‘light cartography’ in gold grain and platinum, pearl and diamond powder, with each speck individually applied using a stylus. The process means each dial takes three months to complete.
The combination of the translucent enamel and applied materials lends a tangible radiance to the finished dials and, while the slender second hand does little to obstruct the view of the dial beneath, both hour and minute hands have been open worked to minimise their own presence.
Favourites from this series will be as subjective and personal as any decision you are likely to make in a watch boutique. Cities resonate with us depending on our own experience of them. So perhaps my own memories of Paris have introduced a level of bias, but the City of Light seems to lend itself particularly well to Imai’s aesthetic, with an invigorating glow radiating outwards from the Arc de Triomphe. The city that never sleeps seems to have nodded off by comparison.
Each of the 40mm 18ct white gold pieces within the Métiers d Art Villes Lumières collection is Poinçon de Genève certified and driven by an automatic 4Hz Caliber 2460 SC movement with 40 hours of power reserve.
The series will be limited by nature of the painstaking dial production rather than intent and each will be delivered with a magnifying glass, allowing the owner to inspect the result of Imai’s unique work.