Vacheron Constantin Unveiled This Year’s Les Cabinotiers One-Off Creations in Dubai
In November 2023 in Dubai, Whitewall was invited by legendary Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin to an exclusive presentation of this year’s enchanting Les Cabinotiers timepieces with the brand’s esteemed Style and Heritage Director Christian Selmoni. Under the transcendent Récits de Voyages theme, a singular lineup of one-off creations journey through the marvels of our world by way of impeccable and time-honored craftsmanship, as well as majestic and leading-edge mechanical art.
The maison’s storied heritage began in 1755, when Jean-Marc Vacheron, an inspired 24-year-old master watchmaker, took on his very first apprentice and founded a visionary business which stands today as the oldest watch manufacturer in continuous operation since its inception. Forever building on its legacy of collaborative artistic vision, a premier team of master watchmaking professionals unite a parade of exceptional skills in order to produce unparalleled timepieces whose radiant designs echo the far reaches of the human imagination.
Along with the iconic tradition of creating elegant, bespoke watches for the most spirited clientele, Les Cabinotiers energizes the global horological landscape with its annual thematic masterpieces, spotlighting the house’s most precious inspirations. This year, the adventurous theme finds its form in the Armillary Tourbillon, the Malte Tourbillon, the Grisaille High Jewellery, the Minute Repeater Tourbillons, and Memorable Places. Tributes to Art Deco style unfold as dynamic works of art reminiscent of the striking embellishments across 1920s New York skyscrapers, while the Tribute to Arabesque design offers engravings influenced by Abu Dhabi’s own Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Whitewall had the opportunity to sit down with Selmoni to reflect on design as the ever-driving force behind the maison’s decorative crafts, the delicate balance of beauty and technical proficiency, as well as guiding the Les Cabinotiers legacy gracefully into the modern zeitgeist.
WW: Where does this theme Récits de Voyages come from?
CS: We are basically two modes. One is the bespoke mode, in which a client comes to us and says, I would like to have the watch of my dreams. Our mission then is to design, create, and develop a watch for him or her according to their dreams. We have been working on the science of such watches for four or five years now, developing, designing, and manufacturing unique pieces that we are showcasing, and which, at the end of the day, will belong to one single client in the world.
Some clients don’t have a precise idea of what they would like us to do, so by doing these watches we are suggesting what we are able to do in terms of watchmaking and/or decorative crafts. We decided to choose an annual theme because this creates the basis for the design and creative aspects of such watches. We choose the themes carefully because we want themes which are inspiring for our designers and our artisans.
WW: When were the watches that we saw today conceived?
CS: Once we establish our theme, we need three years.
Les Cabinotiers Timepieces are Inspired by Vacheron Constantin’s Artisans
WW: Is there a technique for things this collection highlights more than previous collections?
CS: The choice of decorative crafts depends on the work of design. In other words, we do not say, we have Récits de Voyages as a theme, and we want to have enameling, we want to have engraving, we want to have marquetry of wood. No, it’s the design, which is driving the decorative crafts and not the contrary.
This year, what is interesting with the Les Cabinotiers timepieces is that they are very much inspiring our artisans. By creating only unique pieces, we give them the possibility to push the boundaries of their art. This year we have new decorative techniques, such as the double grisaille enamel, which is something that, as far as I can see, has never been made before. We also have the American Art Deco timepiece, which features champlevé associated with wood marquetry. These are two examples of how these annual themes and these unique pieces are driving creativity and innovation.
WW: What is the process for Vacheron Constantin to train artisans in this craft?
CS: They are coming from different areas and different nationalities, but they all have in common an academic background in terms of art school, and most of them came to us with experience in terms of working at the bench. All our artisans are working in the same area, so that creates emulation and that suggests creativity because they have a direct exchange.
The Centuries-Long Tradition of Weaving In-House and External Talents Endures
WW: For the future, do you envision having your own school?
CS: This is not something which is planned. So far, our vision is to capitalize internally on what we consider as our four historical crafts: enameling, engraving, guillochage, and jump setting. This is really the basis for our workshop. We do incorporate other crafts which are coming from independent artisans. This is a tradition that we have had for centuries, to be able to mix our in-house talents with external talents. For this reason, we are not focusing that much on incorporating into our workshop wood marquetry for example, but rather supporting independent artisans who are specialists.
WW: What is the balance between designing a watch to be technically impressive versus for objective beauty?
CS: We are focused on maintaining the elements of our watchmaking style, which are classic design, sophistication, and balance.
The Legacy of Les Cabinotiers Brings Rare Craftsmanship to Modern Timepieces
WW: Could you explain the historical significance of the Les Cabinotiers tradition behind Vacheron of sophisticated and elegant watches?
CS: Les cabinotiers was a name of watchmakers who were working notably in the 18th century in the center of Geneva on the high floors of houses. They had more access to natural light, and so these workshops were named cabinet and the watchmakers became les cabinotiers. With Les Cabinotiers, we are reconnecting with this tradition of fine watchmakers working in dedicated workshops on very specific timepieces.
WW: Could you describe the handwork that is required to create a Les Cabinotiers watch?
CS: All the watches that you have seen are made in the full respect of the traditions. However, we want to create watches which are appealing for clients of the 21st century, and we are always pushing the boundaries of these crafts. For example, the grisaille dial of the Dragon is something amazing, that as far as I can see has never been made before. Or, I think about the wood marquetry of the American Art Deco timepiece. All the watches have been made by hand—all the decoration, the movements, the beveling. It’s rare these days to see such an amount of incredible craftsmanship in the timepiece.
Vacheron Constantin Forges Powerful Bonds with Art, Culture, and Community
WW: What is the interaction between the clients and the team during the three years process?
CS: In the case of Récits de Voyages, which we design, develop, and offer to one single client, there is no interaction with the clients until we reveal the final timepiece. But if we talk about the bespoke model, we very much invite our client to be part of the process.
WW: In regard to the connection between art and the aesthetics of Les Cabinotiers, is there a future theme around art, or did you have a past experience with art collectors?
CS: Yes, our partnership with Musée de Louvre in Paris was a charity auction organized in 2020 by The Louvre together with the auctioneer Christie’s. The funds of this charity auction were devoted to creating a space in The Louvre dedicated to education of the public on art. We were asked to participate, and we created a lot which was a watch that we would create for the winner, which would have a dial with a reproduction in enamel of a sculpture or painting of The Louvre. The winner created a fabulous project with us, and the result is a fantastic timepiece.
As a brand, we have had a strong connection with the world of art and culture for decades, if not centuries.