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A dial with a view
Connoisseur of watches

A dial with a view

Monday, 29 May 2017
Editor Image
Mathilde Binetruy
Freelance journalist

“And yet, it moves.”


From the 1998 World Cup, her first big event, to SIHH and Baselworld today, she reports from where the action is.

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4 min read

Thanks to the métiers d’art, or through stunning complications, watch dials take us far, very far, from our daily routine.

There is a way to put the world at your feet without sprouting wings or sending out a drone. What’s more, it’s there on your wrist. Yes, watchmakers have set themselves the task of elevating our point of view with breathtaking depictions of Earth from above. These dials also serve to highlight the age-old expertise within their makers’ walls. Vacheron Constantin, for example, invites us on a night flight above Geneva, Paris or New York with its Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières. The manufacture’s mastery of the métiers d’art is plain to see; its treatment of the subject is extraordinarily organic. The dials present a shimmering map of the cities in question, with different intensities of light reflecting the activity of their various districts. It’s a magical experience to be able to follow the illuminated contours of Manhattan, from Central Park down to the Hudson, passing through Brooklyn, all depicted with incredible realism. These watches call upon two crafts: grand feu champlevé enamel and the application, by hand, of precious powders. This expertise was developed and is used here by the Japanese artist Yoko Ima. The beauty of the dial becomes a central element of the watch.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Paris
Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Paris

The return to favour of the métiers d’art at the turn of the decade gave watchmakers another avenue to explore. When in the twentieth century the wristwatch supplanted the pocket watch, technique took precedence over aesthetic; the quartz crisis pushed the watch’s decorative aspect even further into the background. After the oversized styles of the 2000s, the current decade has welcomed the return of more elegant, noble, delicate but also more original timepieces.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Geneva
Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Geneva
Continents seen from space

This trend hasn’t escaped Graff, a brand that follows its own mind. The British firm is synonymous with fabulous gems, but is equally renowned in watchmaking for its bold designs and unusual shapes, such as a case composed of polygons. Its GyroGraff World collection shows the continents as seen from space: the desert landscapes of the Middle East, or America by night, depicted with remarkable precision in a kaleidoscope of blues. Magnificent nuances of colour are achieved thanks to grand feu enamel.

GyroGraff World Middle East
GyroGraff World Middle East

The GyroGraff Galaxy even takes its wearer into the Milky Way, with the swirling galaxy on its dial. Opposite the manual-winding biaxial tourbillon is a three-dimensional spherical moonphase display. The phases of the moon are represented by a rotating semi-spherical black cover that gradually eclipses the engraved gold sphere.

GyroGraff Galaxy
GyroGraff Galaxy
New heights

There’s also the option of taking flight 400 kilometres above Earth thanks to three-dimensional fine watchmaking. The Tri-Axial Planetarium by Girard-Perregaux sets new limits with an ultra-complex and mesmerising mechanism. Two astronomical complications come into play: on one side, a 13 mm-diameter sphere representing the Earth, with oceans and continents clearly depicted in miniature painting. On the other, a lunar disc that picks up on seventeenth-century selenography, from the time the telescope was invented. Better than science fiction, this is space travel for the wrist.

Girard Perregaux Tri-Axial Tourbillon Planetarium
Girard Perregaux Tri-Axial Tourbillon Planetarium

Elsewhere, Jacob & Co’s Astronomia Solar has created a fascinating accelerated view of our solar system. For the first time, and after two years of research and development, the brand has reproduced the eight planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) on a dial with the Sun in the centre. How does it work? The globe representing Earth rotates around its own axis every 60 seconds and around the dial every ten minutes, as does the flying tourbillon and the hour and minute dial. Seeing them in motion is like flying through the galaxy to view our satellite from light years away; an invitation to become engulfed in the cosmos. Most of all, this is our chance to lift our gaze from our desk and realise there is a whole other definition of Open Space.

Jacob & Co Astronomia Solar
Jacob & Co Astronomia Solar
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