From June 24th to August 14th 2011 at The National Museum of SingaporeExceptional exhibition: Treasures of Vacheron Constantin - A legacy of watchmaking since 1755
From June 24th to August 14th 2011, in cooperation with Vacheron Constantin, The National Museum of Singapore invites visitors to discover the history of the watchmaking Manufacture and that of Fine Watchmaking in Geneva. The first major public exhibition of the heritage of the world’s oldest watch Manufacture with a continuous history, “Treasures of Vacheron Constantin – A legacy of watchmaking since 1755” reveals over 250 years of creativity and know-how.
Designed like an initiatory journey into the world of the 18th century watchmaking artisans known as cabinotiers, the exhibition is an exploration offering a chance to discover the evolution of time measurement, its professions, as well as the influence of artistic currents – a cultural trilogy that has forged the history of Vacheron Constantin since its founding in 1755. Visitors travel back in time through 180 exceptional pieces from the heritage of the Geneva-based Manufacture, displayed over more than 600 square metres. The watches illustrate the evolution of watchmaking, its industry and its craftsmanship, from the 18th century to the present day.
An initiatory journey to the heart of time
From historical documents from the company archives dating back to Jean-Marc Vacheron and François Constantin to watchmaking tools, from the workbenches of Geneva’s cabinotiers to the machines invented by Georges Auguste Leschot – notably the inventor in 1839 of the pantograph, the device that revolutionised the watch industry by enabling it to produce interchangeable watch parts – the scenography of the exhibition gives life to an incredibly rich technical and aesthetic universe. The impressive variety of pieces united here in itself a living treasure that is unique in its kind. It demonstrates the expertise and creativity of Vacheron Constantin, as well as its incredible capacity for innovation since its founding. From the first pocket watches to clocks, and from jewelled timepieces to Grandes Complications, all are part of this original retrospective of the history of Vacheron Constantin and of the Haute Horlogerie tradition cultivated in Geneva.
While a Vacheron Constantin watch is above all an instrument for reading the time, it is also a resolutely high-tech piece, a symbol of social status and a daily accessory. Whatever its nature, it remains a concentrated blend of history and innovation, and a genuine work of art. Like an open book spanning past and present, the timepieces on show highlight the Métiers d’Art (artistic crafts) without which Haute Horlogerie could not shine so brightly. The star item in the exhibition brilliantly illustrates this truth: created in 1923, Les Bergers d’Acadie pocket watch single-handedly enshrines the subtle alchemist’s blend of skills dedicated to the tireless quest for excellence. This masterpiece combines the talents of the Vacheron Constantin watchmakers, enamellers and engravers within a yellow gold case representing a fascinating triptych. A grand feu enamelled miniature painting faithfully depicts every last detail of the famous painting by Nicolas Poussin adorns the case-back, while the face is entirely engraved. The double back cover is embellished by an engraving featuring the pounced ornament technique and depicting a pastoral scene. Two cherubs keep watch over the mechanical hand-wound movement, also hand-engraved in the finest tradition and visible once the watch is open.
“Treasures of Vacheron Constantin – A legacy of watchmaking since 1755” is far more than a mere watch exhibition. For several days following the opening of the exhibition, several talented artisans from the Manufacture are to share some of their secrets with visitors. An engraver, a gem-setter, a guillocheur, an enameller and a watchmaker will be on-site to testify to this know-how inherited from past centuries and which continues to nourish constantly renewed creativity.
The visitor’s initiation begins in the workshops of an 18th century cabinotier, a symbol of the original professions of Vacheron Constantin and which have shaped its identity. Identical to that of the Maison du Quai de l’Ile during that period, the workshop reveals the work habits of Geneva’s master craftsmen. Whether watchmakers, engravers, goldsmiths or enamellers, these men nurtured by the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment were the aristocracy of craftsmanship. It is was within this context eminently propitious to creative freedom that Jean-Marc Vacheron created his pocket watches, of which the first known one signed “J M Vacheron à Genève” and made in the 1750s is exhibited here as the worthy forerunner of an exceptional historical legacy.
Immersed into this era that witnessed the blossoming of Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, of which Vacheron Constantin is one of the oldest and most illustrious representatives, visitors followed a themed route in which each of the major crafts exercised within the Manufacture reveals its art. That of the master watchmaker is in particular illustrated by the Haute Complication pocket watch made in 1929 for King Fouad I. Through its careful finishing, the high level of quality extending through to the smallest details, and beautiful overall proportions, its 46-jewel mechanical movement houses the peak achievements of the watchmaking art: a split-second chronograph, a 30-minute totalizer, a petite sonnerie sounding the hours only, a silence function, a grande sonnerie in passing on a three-gong chime, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar, as well as the phases and age of the moon. Visitors discover these complications one by one during their peregrinations through the section dedicated to the Master Watchmaker, and this array of technical feats enables them to understand how watchmakers have always grasped the nature of time and expressed its true complexity.
The section dedicated to the Métiers d’Art vividly testifies to the exceptional wealth of the decorative arts applied to watches. The beauty of movements, of cases, of dials: Vacheron Constantin has never favoured one element to the detriment of the others. As an accomplished watchmaker, it creates efficient and elegant mechanisms ranging from the simplest to the most complex. As a case manufacturer, it “clothes” movements rather than merely protecting them, enhancing them by infusing them with its own inimitable style. As a dial-maker, it entrusts the finest engravers, guillocheurs, enamellers, gem-setting jewellers with giving them the ideal face. Its enduring vocation is best summed up by the House motto: “Do better if possible, and that is always possible”.
The workshops thus recreated, the artisans present with their tools, as well as the many historical and modern pieces, all serve to embody the intrinsic value that the human hand confers on each timepiece. A unique, precious value that Vacheron Constantin has been dedicated to perpetuating for over 250 years in complete respect for the finest traditions of hand craftsmanship.
“This first major exhibition of the ‘Treasure of Vacheron Constantin – A legacy of watchmaking since 1755’ marks the start of a long cultural journey, a mission to relate our rich history which echoes that of Haute Horlogerie. This is also the history of a remarkable demonstration of collaborative work, each watch resulting from a symbiosis of talents and the encounter between men and women sharing their savoir-faire to achieve a common goal. It is our duty to commit to passing on this human legacy which represents an inestimably precious imprint on History”. Juan Carlos Torres, CEO of Vacheron Constantin.
The “Treasures of Vacheron Constantin – A legacy of watchmaking since 1755” thus interweaves past, present and future in a spirit of discovery and exploration. “The farther back you look, the farther forward you are likely to see” this statement by Winston Churchill resonates with particular clarity in The National Museum of Singapore. Providing an intimate setting despite its spacious 600 square-metre area, the exhibition highlights time and its role in setting the cadence for human activities and in accompanying technical developments, art movements and even lifestyles. Each Vacheron Constantin houses a fragment of history – that of horology in particular, as well as more broadly that of art, culture and society. Each reveals something of the identity of brand that is consistently ahead of its time, which has already begun writing a new chapter in its history and in that of watchmaking, by building as it has always done on its perpetually innovative legacy.
“In this journey of exploration, we found that the long history of watchmaking not only encapsulates technical development and innovation, it also reflects the change of time, in society and our way of life.” Lee Chor Lin, Director of The National Museum of Singapore.