Wristwatches in Voodoo Style

Aug 01, 2007

Vacheron Constantin, the oldest watch manufacture in the world, introduced a collection that created a lot of buzz among watch experts and connoisseurs. The timepieces from Metiers d'Art 'Les Masques' collection reveal the miniature reproductions of primitive art masks developed in Alaska, China, Indonesia and the Congo. The masks associated with something sacred, mysterious and magic are elaborated with great mastery and care and then skilfully placed into the watches.

How were they created?

Vacheron Constantin selected twelve masks from a private museum collection to be recreated on a small scale, and then incorporated in the center of the dial of every watch. The Company is going to develop 25 boxed sets, each with four masks produced per year. The project will take over three years, and a total of 300 Vacheron Constantin watches will be available for most avid connoisseurs and collectors. For the first Metiers d'Art 'Les Masques' timepieces, the brand opted for a Chinese death mask, a Congolese face mask, an Indonesian theatre mask and an Alaskan frontal mask.

Each mask is developed in its own color. The masks just seem to be floating in space, at arm's length inside the Vacheron Constantin watches. Each mask is surrounded by a poem in prose written by Michel Butor, a French writer. The lines of a poem are formed into a mysterious message that may be read only when the light reaches the crystal at a certain angle. To reach this effect, Vacheron Constantin watchmakers applied a highly sophisticated technique of vacuum metalization, having sprayed the gold letters onto the crystal.

To come up with the most faithful miniaturization, the Vacheron Constantin team had to replicate the exact expression and patina of every mask, and convey the wear and tear the mask was subjected to over time. The brand's specialists wanted to exactly reproduce the marks left by a chisel or burin of the sculptor, together with the traces of verdigris.

First, the team scanned each mask in order to get a three-dimensional image. This allowed the craftsmen to choose the best angle for positioning the mask in the strictly limited space of the watch's case. With help of laser technology, the initial model acquired the exact forms. The team produced the prototype in gold, the material that best corresponded to the miniaturization requirements.

Then the created prototype passed into the hands of the engraver who with help of a chisel meticulously worked on the reliefs, having carved the raised areas and the hollows to replicate the effects of time and recreate the century-old traces left by the burins of ancestors.

One more challenge for the Vacheron Constantin team was the treatment of each mask's color. Having used the ancient formula for galvanic and chemical treatments, the brand' specialists mixed colors of gold. Then, with help of hand touch-ups with paint, the artisans managed to achieve amazing results.

While working on one of the masks' reproductions, the artisans even reproduced the verdigris traces spotted on the 1000-year old funeral mask from the Chinese Liao dynasty. As gold does not oxidize, the specialists created a protective coating. Then, the engraver put a little copper onto the gold, which was then oxidized. The final reproduction of the mask looked like it was created many centuries ago.

Where did the idea originate from?

The first question that probably comes to mind when seeing 'Les Masques' watches is why on earth Vacheron Constantin watchmakers would unite the exclusive art of watchmaking with the ancient masks' culture? Masks, often endowed with magic powers, are first of all associated with different rites and rituals and are of important social and religious value in some communities.

Still, masks have a chronological dimension if to consider them as fruits of time through which they have been transformed, stamped, and acquired softened contours. In this respect, watchmaking is of the same symbolic and even magical significance. Mechanical timekeeping creations are often associated with flight of time. Both watches and masks are relevant to the art of time, and bear aesthetic value closely related to their usage. Watches and masks are most often created by anonymous artists and passed from one generation to another.

The primitive art masks and Vacheron Constantin watches are united by one peculiarity. The Vacheron Constantin Company has been established in the city of Geneva for over 250 years. Geneva also boasts to be the home to the Musee Barbier-Mueller, one of the most beautiful primitive art museums in the world, that now celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Having united masks and watches, the Vacheron Constantin team wanted to evoke the cultural experience of people living on all the continents, and pay tribute to their arts and crafts. Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO of Vacheron Constantin, convinced Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller to join their efforts in this adventure.

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posted by: / Aug 01, 2007

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