Hands of time: Vacheron Constantin gives new life to Louvre museum masterpieces

Collaboration to explore the long-standing connection between horology and the arts

Watch collectors can commission Vacheron Constantin to emulate an artwork from the Louvre Paris on a dial. Photo: Vacheron Constantin
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Watchmaking and art have a timeless bond, so it is little wonder that Vacheron Constantin – the Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer founded in 1755 – has chosen the Louvre Museum in Paris as its aesthetic partner since 2019. The two institutions, which were established in the same century, have forged a cultural and artistic collaboration over the past four years, which continues to thrive today.

Vacheron Constantin already has an extraordinary range of artistic resources at its disposal, including in-house guilloche experts, jewellery setters and master enamellers and engravers. Last year, it leveraged its top talent to collaborate with the museum on a collection of four Metiers d’Art, or master of art, watches. Each is inspired by one of the museum’s many great works of art celebrating ancient civilisations.

One dial is engraved with a sphinx adorned with the nemes headdress worn by the rulers of the ancient Egyptian empire. Another pays homage to the ancient empire of the Achaemenids, engraved with the Frieze of Lions, a glazed brick decoration located in the first courtyard of the Palace of Darius in Susa, Iran.

The third features the statue of Victory, a winged goddess resting on the prow of a warship as a tribute to the Hellenistic Greece of the Antigonid dynasty. The fourth and final watch is engraved with the bust of Octavian Augustus, the adopted son of Caesar, wearing an oak wreath, representing the Julio-Claudian dynasty of the Roman Empire.

These four limited-edition watches have already been sold. However, while they may or may not return to the auction block, watch collectors and art connoisseurs can still commission Vacheron Constantin to reproduce miniature versions of thousands of the Louvre’s artworks (the Mona Lisa remains out of bounds, though), as part of its ongoing A Masterpiece on the Wrist programme. Titled Les Cabinotiers watch collection, such timepieces are guaranteed to be the only one of their kind.

A letter of authenticity from the museum will certify the reproduction. Louis Ferla, chief executive of Vacheron Constantin, says: “With the Louvre Museum, we are writing an extremely promising joint history by combining our fields of competence and our wildest dreams.”

As part of the initiative, one private buyer commissioned The Fight for the Standard detail from the Battle of Anghiari artwork to be recreated as a timepiece.

The drawing, planned by Leonardo da Vinci in 1505 and executed by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens in 1603, is usually only viewable by making an appointment with the Department of Graphic Arts of the Louvre.

The watch has a 40mm rose gold case, an alligator strap and a rose gold oscillating weight engraved with a view of the eastern façade of the Louvre. The custom dial, meanwhile, is created by an enamel master and combines two artistic styles: miniature painting and blanc de Limoges enamelling.

Earlier this year, Luxury enjoyed a first-hand, behind-the-scenes look at just how intricate the watchmaking and enamelling processes are through workshops conducted by Vacheron Constantin in Abu Dhabi. Highlighting the maison’s heritage, craftsmanship and commitment to technical excellence, the sessions were held in the private Majlis Nahr Al Hayat at the Zayed Heritage Centre. The room was customised to resemble the watchmaking workstations in Vacheron Constantin’s atelier, with each area comprising horology paraphernalia such as magnifying headsets, casing cushions, finger guards and all-important tweezers. The latter tool is challenging to use but crucial for handling all the tiny parts when disassembling and reassembling a movement, as touching the components with the fingertips can create oil spots and humidity, which in turn can cause the movement to oxidise.

Enamelling, often called the softer side of watchmaking, is powered by creativity, as evident by the Louvre artworks reproduced on Les Cabinotiers dials. In the workshop, we were given free rein to paint metal dials with acrylic paints that we mixed ourselves. The dials were later baked and handed out as parting gifts.

While the sessions merely grazed the surface of what it takes to work as a master watchmaker, they revealed the complexity of a profession that has been granted Unesco intangible heritage status. Christophe Ramel, managing director of Vacheron Constantin Middle East, India and Africa, acknowledges preservation is what sustains the brand’s heritage and its partnerships.

“Vacheron Constantin and the Louvre share a concern for archiving, conservation and restoration, with the promise of perpetuating the related arts and crafts,” he says. This shared attachment to the splendours of the past and the transmission of knowledge has also paved the way for another joint initiative by the two, with Vacheron Constantin supporting the restoration of a clock named La Creation du Monde (The Creation of the World), a masterpiece of 18th-century precision horology presented to King Louis XV in 1754.

Workshops aside, the Abu Dhabi leg of Vacheron Constantin’s novelties tour brought a series of watches with regional significance to the UAE. Among the pieces on display were an 18-karat pink gold wristwatch with a silvered dial and monarchial emblems of Saudi Arabia. The watch was presented to former chancellor of Geneva Adolphe Tombet by Saudi Arabia’s late King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Another was an 18-karat yellow gold diamond-set automatic bracelet watch featuring a white dial with a crown at 12 o’clock, a special order from Jordan’s former ruler King Hussein. “For us, it’s a big year in terms of novelties, and the UAE holds a special place in our heart,” says Ramel. “Vacheron Constantin has a long relationship with the region and its collectors, and we have always tried to push boundaries.”

Updated: September 17, 2023, 6:57 AM