Intricate Timepieces, Inspired by the Louvre

PARIS – In its refinement and meticulous detail, the miniature lion engraved in relief on the dial of the wristwatch looks like it could have been created by royal artisans in the sixth century BC in Persepolis (in today’s Iran) to decorate the Apadana Palace of Darius the Great, ruler of the Persian Empire.

But the beast – carved as if in motion against a fading stone wall – was actually made by 21st-century artisans employed in the métiers d’art workshops of the Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin, in Plans-les-Ouates, outside Geneva.

The inspiration for the timepiece, called the Lion of Darius, is the ancient stone wall panel known as the Frieze of Lions that once decorated the halls of Apadana and is now on display in the Near Eastern Antiquities department of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The watch, part of a collaboration by Vacheron Constantin and the Louvre announced in 2019, was a standout in a new four-piece Tribute to Great Civilizations collection presented last month at the museum.

On the watch dial, the patinated-gold lion is engraved to closely resemble the one on the ancient frieze, complete with muscles and mane. It is set atop marquetry of turquoise and yellow Mookaite jasper from Australia, both chosen for their inclusions that give the delicate stone-setting the appearance of age.

Around the circumference, details from another ancient panel at the Louvre (the Frieze of Archers) are depicted as a series of triangles engraved in metal and set in champlevé enamel. A cuneiform script – taken from a tablet inscribed in Old Persian that is a foundation charter for the palace of Darius – appears on the sapphire crystal inserted between the engraved lion and the marquetry.

“We took inspiration from the original Frieze of Lions, but with some creative license,” Christian Selmoni, the style and heritage director of Vacheron Constantin, said in an interview. “All the drawings and details including the accuracy of the writing were verified by the Louvre. This authenticity adds a lot of depth and mystery to the timepiece. ”

The Great Civilizations collection is the fruit of the brand’s artistic and cultural partnership with the museum, an idea born in 2016 after the watchmaker had restored a bronze and silver clock dating from 1754, known as “The Creation of the World. ” (The complex restoration had allowed the clock to emerge from the Louvre’s reserves, to travel last year to the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and to be displayed in the Objets d’Art department of the Louvre in Paris.)

The partnership’s stated aim is the conservation, preservation and transmission of rare artistic crafts, including champlevé and grisaille enameling, stone marquetry, micro-mosaics and metal hand-engraving, all of which were applied in crafting the new wristwatch collection.

The three other models in the collection are based on treasures in the Louvre, which date from other civilizations and epochs. The ancient Egypt of the pharaohs has inspired the Grand Sphinx of Tanis watch; the Hellenistic period of Greece is the source for the Winged Victory of Samothrace watch; and the birth of the Roman Empire inspired the Bust of Augustus watch.

“Each of the four timepieces tells the story of a different ancient civilization,” Mr. Selmoni said. “The original artworks were chosen in consultation with the Louvre, as part of a truly collaborative project.”

Judging by these new creations, the partnership with the Louvre can be a vast field of inspiration and a source of new technical challenges for the watchmaker’s in-house artisans.

“Le Louvre has always been a living source of inspiration for artists and creatives of every epoch,” Yann Le Touher, the Louvre’s head of development who worked closely on the project, said in an email. “We are delighted that Vacheron Constantin, a maison dedicated to patient craftsmanship and to the exigencies of haute horology, has chosen four of the Louvre’s masterpieces to showcase its commitment to beauty and excellence.”

Each watch has an alligator band and is powered by an in-house automatic movement, the caliber 2460 4G / 2, that allows the time and date to be indicated without hands – through apertures – so as not to obstruct the image crafted on the dial . The watches have been produced in a numbered edition of five per model, for a total of 20, with prices available on application.

Beyond the importance it attaches to history and heritage, Vacheron Constantin has also committed to supporting contemporary artistic creation. Through Sept. 1, visitors to its New York flagship store can view a combined art and timepiece exhibition, “The Anatomy of Beauty.” It features intricate heritage wristwatches and gem-set pocket watches alongside aquatic-themed artworks chosen to raise awareness of the waterways and of the fragility of coral reefs, with large-scale photographs of the Hudson River by the New York-based artist Melissa McGill and coral-inspired ceramic wall sculptures by the Los Angeles-based artist Courtney Mattison.

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