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By Neharika Padala | January 13 2015
Two traditional brands have released extremely limited editions of uniquely artistic timepieces. What clues are there in these latest artisan offerings from Hermès and Vacheron Constantin as to the future direction of haute horology?
When you look at the dial of the Hermès Arceau Millefiori, you might think spring has started blooming on your wrist. But you might also be shocked to find that the sweet little flowers embellishing the artistic dial of this wristwatch are made of crystal. The word millefiori is Italian and literally means “a thousand flowers”. It’s more than fitting as a description of the unique dial of this new model from the considerable talents of Hermès’s repertoire of artisans.
Indeed, the Arceau Millefiori combines the talents of Hermès’s watchmakers in Switzerland with its master craftspeople of Cristalleries de Saint-Louis, located in the French Alsace region.
The dial of the Hermès Arceau Millefiori is inspired by Saint-Louis’ 19th-century paperweights, which are today highly collectable heirlooms. The traditional crystal maker still places a lot of emphasis on its paperweights, which it continues to manufacture. Indeed the small department, which comprises four ultra-talented artisans making delicate little glass sculptures, is still called the “paperweight department” to this day. Even though they currently produce a much wider range of objets d’art and not just paperweights.
Both the paperweights and the wristwatch dials are created using the Italian Millefiori technique, which the luxury brand’s crystal blowers manufacture in the traditional way. There are no machines at Saint-Louis able to take the place of the artisan’s hand. The crystal is hand-blown, drawn, and pulled into a shape resembling long thin canes before being cut into portions the craftspeople jokingly call “bon bons” and smelted with yet more molten crystal to form a bed of flowers. Once the mini globe of Millefiori crystal is completed to the artisans’ satisfaction, it is sent to a specialist gemcutter in Germany to be cut into slices only 0.4mm thick to form the dial.
It is only during the final cutting stage that the crystal, housed in a 34mm (pink dial/raspberry colored alligator skin strap) or 41 mm (blue dial/strap) white gold case, reveals the full wealth of its pattern and the unique beauty of the artistic flowerbed, with its vividly shimmering colors. The time is kept by hand-wound Caliber H1912 in the smaller version ($49,500) and hand-wound Caliber H1837 ($46,500) in the larger timepiece.
Vacheron Constantin’s artistic and creative director, Christian Selmoni, is proud of this traditional Geneva brand’s artistic Métiers d’Art collection, and particularly the rare pieces comprising a small collection called Fabuleux Ornements. Each piece is hand-created and there are only 20 numbered pieces of each. All are powered by manually wound Caliber 1003SQ, which is not only stamped with the coveted Seal of Geneva, but decorated to match the ornamental theme. Openworked dials add flavor, each inspired by a different world culture and allow you to see the embellished movement that references each model’s name.
French Lace is reminiscent of European embroidery, with a filigreed, hand-guilloché dial coated with translucent, high-fire enamel and set with 13 blue and pink sapphires (approx. 0.06 ct) and 40 round-cut diamonds (approx. 0.13 ct). A cutaway reveals an ethereal, skeletonized, engraved 18-karat gold base plate.
Chinese Embroidery offers a hand-engraved dial embellished with stone cloisonné of pink opal and glyptics using ruby, garnet and cuprite (approx. 1.40 ct in total), while Ottoman Architecture offers a white mother-of-pearl underneath, an open-worked, 18-karat gold plate covering the hand-chamfered dial adorned with half-pearls to resemble a pink gold moucharaby (wooden lattice) motif.
Indian Manuscript boasts a high-fire champlevé (meaning the metal was first engraved to create recesses, thereby securing the motifs) enamel dial that blossoms with 10 vibrant colors forming oriental-inspired flowers blooming against the blue sky. The foliage was hand-engraved after the enameling process was complete: a tricky undertaking that can easily destroy hours of painstaking work.
All four models are housed within a 40mm white (French Lace and Chinese Embroidery) or pink (Ottoman Architecture and Indian Manuscript) gold case retailing for $154,800. Due to their rarity, these pieces are only available for purchase through Vacheron Constantin’s network of boutiques.