This year, Vacheron Constantin pays tribute to these balloonists and their historic, gravity-defying “aerostatic experiments” with five new timepieces in its aesthetically ambitious Métiers d’Art collection, called Les Aérostiers, which showcase on their breathtakingly detailed and colorful dials a combination of artistic techniques.
The dials of the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers watches combine hand-engraved, micro-sculpted gold depictions of five historical hot air balloons, whose flights took place between 1783 and 1785 in locations throughout France, with translucent background elements in plique à jour enamel.
The balloons are created using a technique called pounced ornament engraving, in which a master engraver first traces the volumes of a twodimensional rendering using a drypoint technique, then sculpts the materials to achieve a delicate rounded effect, carving out the curves of the balloons, their baskets, and the tiny lines of their ropes.
The technique used to create the backgrounds is reminiscent of cloisonné enameling, with the absence of a base creating an effect akin to that of a stained glass window.
Like previous models in the Métiers d’Art series, each of the watches is powered by Vacheron Constantin’s self-winding manufacture Caliber 2460 G4/1, which is noteworthy for its handsfree, disk-type time display – with hours, minutes, day and date indications all visible through apertures around the rim of the dial (the hours and minutes are “dragging” displays while the day and date are “jumping”).
The 237-part movement, visible through a clear sapphire caseback, has 27 jewels, a 28,800-vph frequency, and a 40-hour power reserve. Each Les Aérostiers timepiece is housed in a 40-mm-diameter white-gold case and mounted on a Mississippi alligator strap, with a white-gold half-Maltese crossshaped clasp, that echoes the background colors of the dial. Limited to just five pieces in each reference, they are priced at $135,000.