With January here and SIHH around the corner, I wanted to revisit some of the most wonderful artistic watches unveils in 2018: Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art Les Aerostiers. Retailing for about $135,000 each, these unique watches were inspired by ballooning of yesteryear, and have all the majesty and beauty these vintage dirigibles had in their day. I had the grand opportunity last summer to go hot air ballooning with Vacheron Constantin over the vineyards of Napa Valley — and it was a magical experience that left me wishing i had the money to plunk down on one of these watches. Here, we take a look at these beauties and that trip, before this amazing Swiss brand wows us again this year at SIHH 2019 with something else.
“Vacheron Constantin’s watchmakers and artisans unveiled five different balloon dial watches inspired by the early balloonists, called aérostiers in French. The artists at Vacheron Constantin opted to utilize the entire watch dial for the drama and beauty of these flying machines. As such, the watches do not have hands on them to indicate the time. Instead, thanks to the innovative mechanical movement Caliber 2460 G4/1, the time is indicated via apertures on the outer rim of the dial. Essentially, four disks display reveals the hours, minutes, day and date. Additionally, thanks to transparent spots in the artistic design, the wearer can catch glimpses of the movement’s gear trains and disks.
Each of the five dial renditions represents a different historical hot air balloon made in France in 1783 through 1785. The incredible detail the master engravers went to in order to recreate an exact miniature of these balloons in sculpted gold is fascinating. Each balloon is a three-dimensional work of art with miniscule decorations that recall the original balloons. Each hot air balloon — with ornate basket (complete with human figurines and animals inside) — takes approximately three weeks to produce and each is an original. Further underscoring the original artwork concept, Vacheron Constantin also turns to a a rare form of enamel for the background of each watch: plique-à-jour. This year marks the first time the brand has used this form of translucent enameling. The backgrounds range from sky blue to midnight blue, turquoise, reddish brown and deep burgundy. The watch also features an inner bezel ring that is engraved with a design recalling the balloon ropes. Each of the five versions is created in 3N, 4N or 5N rose gold.
The cases of the watch are all 40mm in diameter and 12.74mm thick. The mechanical movement, which consists of 237 parts and 27 jewels, is visible via a sapphire case back. Like all Vacheron Constantin watches, the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection carries the Hallmark of Geneva, attesting to its fine craftsmanship, and top-notch movement finishes. There will be five numbered editions of each of the five designs.” (Note: portions of this article by Roberta Naas first appeared on Forbes.com)