Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Swan

I once saved one of the Queen's swans in Scotland.  It was a bit of a strange situation.  Wendy and I were coming back from an afternoon in Dundee and were walking past one of the areas in St. Andrews where the ducks and swans gathered.  Unfortunately one of the younger swans had been snared by a fishing line.  I dropped down a 20 foot pit, and waded towards the swan. The parents were fierce and showing their wings and letting us know that they would do whatever it took to protect their babies.

A gentleman nearby grabbed a boat oar and splashed water at the mother and father swan to keep them away from me while I scooped up their baby, clipped the fishing line from its legs, checked it for injury, released it - then dove like a coward into a nearby rowboat.  

Beautiful - but strong.

Ever since then I've sought these magnificent birds out.
Let's start out with these beauties I saw one Sunday morning in Lucerne in 2011 -

And a year later the lesson was still the same but I had not learned it - people will shine you on with wonderful promises, praise and treacle. A swan? A swan is beautiful, wanting nothing from you.


From Vacheron Constanin -


Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin

One creation after another, Vacheron Constantin continues to offer fabulous demonstrations of authentic mastery in the field of artistic crafts. The Manufacture founded 260 years ago has consistently highlighted the intrinsic value of these artisanal skills that have steadily forged Geneva’s reputation in this domain for more than three centuries. Decorative techniques blossom on two new exceptional works of art introduced this year and illustrating the majesty of the swan while enriching the series titled L’Éloge de la Nature

Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin

The swan, symbol of pure and unconditional love

The swan glides majestically over the crystalline waters of Lake Geneva, tiny droplets from the Jet d’eau sliding across its immaculate white plumage and head held high atop a supple neck radiating a powerful aura of nobility. Feathers unfurled and wings spread, ready to embrace its beloved, this luminous waterbird embodies the universal symbol of eternal love and its almost angelic profile evokes a sense of purity and delicacy. Vacheron Constantin reproduces this exquisite gracefulness on two distinctively graphic dials highlighting each beautiful detail of the swan: a white gold palmiped set with round-cut diamonds and spreading its wings on a finely guilloché, enamelled stretch of water. Just as a conductor unites musicians in performing a symphony, Vacheron Constantin has
brought together the most talented artisans to create a visual burst of splendour. A glowing tribute to the shores of Lake Geneva and the city where the Manufacture was born. Jean-Marc Vacheron could undoubtedly admire the same feathered beauties from the windows of his cabinotiers workshop on the Quai de l’Ile in 1755... 

A succession of meticulous operations

Engraver, guillocheur, enameller and gem-setter: four artisans have in turn devoted their endeavours to this dial. Achieving such a spectacular result called for a certain vision as well as intense imagination. A flurry of furthers, a daintily curved neck, a shining beak, a gleaming eye, shimmering wavelets, a pristine blue sky: each detail is so accurate that one can almost feel the soft breeze and hear the gentle lapping of the water. Two months of work have been lavished on crafting the dials. There is always a major element of the imponderable in this type of creation, which requires each of those involved to give their very best in striving towards an inevitably unpredictable outcome.

The composition begins with delicate hand engraving on an 18-carat white gold plate. Volumes, recessed and raised areas, texture and light effects: each millimetre is the object of a deliberate creative approach. To attain such a superlative degree of refinement, the engraver has developed his own tools, all the while imagining distinctive and appropriate techniques designed to guarantee the eagerly anticipated result. After drawing the outlines of the bird, the artisan fashions the feathers one by one. The sharp graving tool incises the material, forming a herringbone pattern on the men’s model and a more curved motif on the ladies’ version. The engraver’s dexterity gives each feather a distinctive satin-brushed and polished finish.
The swan spreads its wings above a stretch of water depicting a gentle ripple motif. Above it, a gentle ‘visual breeze’ ruffles the dial through the work of the guillocheur. The artisan has traced narrow geometrical grooves on the already-decorated dial, meaning he had to carefully adjust his rose- engine lathe so as not to damage the tiny gold filaments. Even though certain guilloché areas are extremely narrow, his graving tool has always found its way into microscopic nooks and crannies without straying out of the appointed zone. These are extremely accurate and skilled moves of the kind only an experienced hand can perform.

The guilloché motifs are coated with a translucent Grand Feu enamel, sky blue for the ladies’ version and night blue for the men’s model. As always, this famous enamelling technique remains the exclusive preserve of a very few artisans who are authentic alchemists. Hand applying the coloured enamels, melting and fusing them at a temperature of between 800° and 900°C, followed by vitrification (also known as glazing) to create a translucent brilliance: each of these production stages necessarily involves unexpected factors. Here too, the result is never secure until the final phase, and no flaws can be tolerated, since they would mean starting the entire creation over from scratch. Finally, a Limoges whiteenamelling is applied to the upper part of the engraved feathers so as to accentuate their luminosity.

Last comes an equally delicate phase: gem-setting. 76 baguette-cut diamonds adorning the bezel and lugs frame this naturalist scene. The gently rounded curves of the swan’s body are paved with snow- set round-cut diamonds. This extremely special technique gives considerable expressive freedom, enabling the artisan to create distinctive effects by playing in an apparently random manner with the varyingly sized precious stones. Finally, the base of the swan’s wings is diamond-paved, with each feather delineated by a fine gold line. This fascinating light-based craftsmanship endows the bird with an inimitable aura of natural majesty. 

A mechanism serving artistic craftsmanship

Caliber 2460 G4 provides a spacious playground by entirely freeing up the dial centre in order to provide scope for the artistic crafts. In keeping with its rich tradition of original and varied displays, Vacheron Constantin perpetuates the watchmaking art by offering an ingenious hand-free visualisation of time. This is achieved through four apertures respectively showing the hours, minutes, day and date. The indications the first two of the dragging or trailing type and the last two of the jumping variety appear through these windows regularly placed around the rim of the dial and leaving plenty of space for a central motif.
Beating at a frequency of 4 Hz (28,800 v.p.h.), the mechanical self-winding movement is equipped with a 22-carat gold oscillating weight adorned with a dynamic geometrical shape inspired by Vacheron Constantin’s signature Maltese Cross emblem. Its 237 parts are graced with exceptional finishes. The movement is protected by an 18-carat white gold case with a transparent back providing a chance to admire the fine workmanship inside. A Mississippiensis alligator leather strap secured by an 18-carat white gold folding clasp shaped like a half Maltese Cross sets the perfect finishing touch.
These one-of-a-kind creations bear the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva, the highest reference in the realm of Haute Horlogerie, duly certifying the quality, craftsmanship and reliability of these exceptional timepieces made in Geneva. Their singularity is also emphasised by the inscription “Pièce unique” engraved on the caseback.

A naturalist bestiary embodying a perfect combination of artistry and matter
With this pair of swans, Vacheron Constantin intends not only to pursue its privileged dialogue with devotees of Haute Horlogerie, but also to showcase its longstanding expertise in the domain of artistic crafts and its talent for combining them. Like a loyal custodian, Vacheron Constantin faithfully safeguards these distinctive skills contributing to its cultural exception. 

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