A human adventure. A voyage through and exploration of an unknown “great beyond” in which craftsmanship and innovation come together at their zenith. Of this union between the craftsmen of one of the oldest Japanese lacquer companies, Zôhiko – headquartered in Kyoto since its founding in 1661 – and Vacheron Constantin – the world’s oldest watchmaker, which has been making watches in Geneva without interruption since its beginnings in 1755 – was born a remarkable embodiment of the same core values: the Métiers d’Art – La symbolique des laques collection.
The first set explores the theme of long life with “The Three Friends of Winter” – Saikan no sanyû: the pine tree, bamboo, and the plum tree. This classic trio of the Chinese symbolic system was a very early arrival in Japan, where it is just as popular as in its country of origin. By virtue of their resistance to extreme cold, the “Three Friends of Winter” have longevity as their primary symbolic meaning. By extension, they are also associated with the loyalty of a friendship that survives the hard times symbolized by winter.
From a watchmaking standpoint, the legendary ultra-thin Caliber 1003 has been chosen by Vacheron Constantin to equip this series of timepieces – and more specifically a skeletonized version of the movement crafted in 14-carat white gold. Nonetheless, so as to magnify the overall harmony and to ensure that the maki-e craftsmanship is suitably highlighted, Vacheron Constantin even went so far as to opt for a ruthenium treatment which – by toning down the natural radiance of gold – creates a particularly elegant effect on this model. The sapphire crystals on either side enable one to admire the exceptional finishing, and in particular the bevelling craftsmanship performed in the workshops of the Genevabased Manufacture. Maki-e - which literally means “sprinkled picture” – is the most sophisticated of all lacquer techniques, designating a decorative operation in which the design is created by delicately sprinkling gold or silver dust over lacquer – usually black – while it is still wet. The lacquer is made from the sap of the lacquer tree, Rhus verniciflua. This tree, a relative of poison ivy, originated on the high plateaus of central Asia or Tibet. Today, it grows only in southern China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan, but it seems to have had a much wider range in the past. In Japanese, the word for the substance and the name of the tree are the same: urushi.
Vacheron Constantin chose this combination of three double motifs in close cooperation with Zôhiko. Each watch has a double face lacquered using the maki-e technique. The main design of the tree on the front of the watch is matched by the bird design on the back, facing the wrist. Here, too, Vacheron Constantin’s choice falls within a Japanese tradition, as many Japanese lacquerware objects are decorated even on their hidden surfaces, for example, on the insides of lids or the bottoms of boxes. The plum tree is known above all for the fact that its delicate, pink-tinged white flowers open in midwinter. Their subtle perfume spreads through the coldest month of winter, awakening the first hope of spring. Although neither the plum tree nor its flowers are particularly magnificent, they have such a fresh, exquisite character that they delight the spirit in the midst of winter’s desolation. The plum tree serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and humility in the face of the world’s adversities. The pairing of the plum tree and the nightingale seems to be more of a Japanese development. Both are the first messengers of spring: the first song of the nightingale is called hatsune, or “the first sound of the year.” There are countless examples in art and poetry associating the plum tree and the nightingale. They are frequently depicted with snow as well, as plum trees often open so early that their flowers seem to blend in with the snowflakes.
Limited series of 20 sets per year. each containing three watches. 18kt rose gold case with a black alligator leather strap. Fixed 18kt rose gold bezel. Japanese maki-e lacquer dial with rose gold hands. Vacheron Constantin 1003 SQ hand wind movement with a 30-hour power reserve. Scratch resistant sapphire crystal. Transparent case back. Case size: 40 mm. Case thickness: 8.2 mm. Round case shape. Pin buckle. Water resistant at 30 meters / 100 feet. Style: Atypical High Horology. Watch label: Swiss Made. Vacheron Constantin Metiers D'Art Plum Tree and Nightingale Unisex Watch 33222/000R-9517.