A Fabulous Tribute to the History of Aviation

Vidas Rach

If we take a closer look at the emotions created by different watches, we will easily notice vectors in three directions: one dives to the bottom of the ocean, another rises to the heavens, and a third pursues high speeds on the ground.

The usual and essential design codes are that these watches are more or less reminiscent of instruments that can be seen in a cockpit or on the dashboard of a sports car, and they have the functions necessary for adventures in the air, on the ground, or under water. Vacheron Constantin, the oldest Swiss watch manufacturer in continuous operation – since 1755 – also decided to pay tribute to the historical achievements and adventures of mankind in the air. But they did it completely differently.

Each hot-air balloon called for up to three weeks of craftsmanship in order to reproduce the entire range of subtle feature and ornamental details of the original works
Each hot-air balloon called for up to three weeks of craftsmanship in order to reproduce the entire range of subtle feature and ornamental details of the original works
©Johann Sauty
Vacheron Constantin is for the first time calling upon this skill mastered by very few enamellers.
Vacheron Constantin is for the first time calling upon this skill mastered by very few enamellers.
©Johann Sauty

Taking off from the ground and rising into the sky was probably one of the oldest dreams of mankind. This is evidenced by old myths, epics, and various naïve daredevil attempts that ended tragically. The first successful “aerostatic experiments” were only done in the late 18th century in France. These were hot air balloons, and their pilots were called aérostiers. It is the first hot air balloon flights that took place in France between 1783 and 1785 that Vacheron Constantin pays tribute to in their new, artistic Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection. Each of these limited-edition watches has three unique features: a splendid hand-engraved, micro-sculpted gold hot-air balloon hovering against a translucent plique-à-jour enamel background, with time displayed to the beat of manufacture Calibre 2460 G4/1.

The colourful magic of plique-à-jour enamel.
The colourful magic of plique-à-jour enamel.
©Johann Sauty
HThe balance between the various shades is extremely subtle.
The balance between the various shades is extremely subtle.
©Johann Sauty

The Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Versailles 1783 model commemorates the first aerostat flight in history, which was a balloon designed by Étienne de Montgolfier. The dial of the Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers – Paris 1783 also depicts an aerostat designed by Étienne de Montgolfier, but this time it was carrying two people, who were called “sky travellers”. The third watch in the series, the Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers – Paris 1784, features a detailed depiction of the technically more sophisticated balloon in which the balloonist Blanchard created a system that made it possible to adjust the flight trajectory. The Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Bordeaux 1784 honours what was then a phenomenal flight, when three people flew in the wicker basket of a hot air balloon. This flight captivated all of France. The fifth watch of the series, the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers – Bagnols 1785, celebrates the flight that a crowd of 10,000 spectators applauded. Five flights – five exclusive watches, each limited to five apiece.

The main design accent of the watches is hot air balloons, the images of which are precisely reconstructed with the finest details and decoration elements according to historical engraving and drawings. This was a real challenge for the watchmaker’s master engravers, and it took three weeks to produce each balloon.

The level of finishing becomes ever more sophisticated, all the way through to the smallest details of the human figures, animals and the meticulous decoration of the balloons.
The level of finishing becomes ever more sophisticated, all the way through to the smallest details of the human figures, animals and the meticulous decoration of the balloons.
©Johann Sauty
Transparency effects provide fascinating glimpses of the gear trains and discs of Calibre 2460 G4/1 through the plique-à-jour enamel.
Transparency effects provide fascinating glimpses of the gear trains and discs of Calibre 2460 G4/1 through the plique-à-jour enamel.
©Vacheron Constantin

The second big challenge was the plique-à-jour enamel on the dials. On the dials of the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection, a translucent background in sky blue, dark blue, turquoise, brown or burgundy, evoke a spirit of airy transparency. This is a very old and largely forgotten enameling technique that has only been perfectly mastered by a select few. Its layout is reminiscent of cloisonné enameling; while the absence of a base recalls a miniature stained-glass window. The balance between the various shades is extremely subtle, as is the polishing of the partitions between them. The predominant shades of each creation are also picked up on the display discs as well as the matching strap. The inner bezel ring framing the enamel is engraved with a motif inspired by balloon ropes, also varying between 3N, 4N or 5N gold according to the models.

One of five - Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Versailles 1783.
One of five - Métiers d'Art Les Aérostiers - Versailles 1783.
©Vacheron Constantin
Piece of art on your wrist.
Piece of art on your wrist.
©Vidas Rach

And the third – technical – challenge was the movement for these unique watches. Understandably, this collection is not subject to the usual requirements for dial reading and functionality, but Vacheron Constantin had a top-level solution for this problem as well. The hours, minutes, date, and day of the week are displayed in clear enamel apertures at 11, 1, 5 and 7 o’clock. The key to the manufacture Caliber 2460 G4/1 is four rotating discs, where two are “dragging” displays while the others are “jumping”. The movement itself stands out for its high-end finishing, which is visible through the clear sapphire case back.

The calibre is decorated according to the highest watchmaking finishing standards and the gold oscillating weight, specially engraved and domed for this new collection, evokes the rounded shape of a hot-air balloon.
The calibre is decorated according to the highest watchmaking finishing standards and the gold oscillating weight, specially engraved and domed for this new collection, evokes the rounded shape of a hot-air balloon.
©Vacheron Constantin
Splendid handengraved and micro-sculpted gold hot-air balloons hover against a translucent plique-à-jour enamel background.
Splendid handengraved and micro-sculpted gold hot-air balloons hover against a translucent plique-à-jour enamel background.
©Vacheron Constantin
Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers
Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers
©Vacheron Constantin

Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers:

● Mechanical, self-winding. Calibre 2460 G4/1 developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin.

● Approximately 40 hours of power reserve, 4 Hz (28,800 vibrations/hour), 237 components, 27 jewels.

● Indications: Hours, minutes, day of the week and date in apertures on matching disc colour.

● Case - 18K white gold 40 mm diameter, transparent sapphire crystal caseback.

● Water-resistance 3 bar (approx.30 meters). Mississippiensis alligator leather straps with alligator leather inner shell, hand-stitched, saddlefinish, 18K white gold folding clasp.

● Limited series of 5 numbered watches per reference.