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Where the applied arts are alive and well

Where the applied arts are alive and well

Tuesday, 22 December 2009
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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2 min read

The applied arts are second nature for Vacheron Constantin.

These rare skills and essential components of a Fine Watch are an integral part of the manufacture, where an ad hoc department has been created for engine-turning, stone-setting, enamelling and engraving. Says Jeanne Ulrich, “I joined the workshop as an engraver in 2005, initially under Jean-Bernard Michel, a freelance engraver who also teaches at the École d’Arts Appliqués in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Vacheron Constantin undertakes to keep these metiers d’art alive within the manufacture, and engraving takes its place naturally among them.” She takes immense pleasure from her work, particularly as this is still an activity where the cult of productivity hasn’t taken hold. “This is essentially a creative process. Quality is the ultimate concern and why we can take the time needed to bring our projects to fruition.”

Gabon Mask © Vacheron Constantin
Gabon Mask © Vacheron Constantin
Nothing can replace the human hand

“Anything from two hours to two weeks. It all depends on the piece in hand,” says Dominique Vuez, who heads the group of three engravers working at Jaeger-LeCoultre. “The work we do has to be understood as an example of true craftsmanship. The only tools you’ll find on our benches are burins, gravers, tracing paper and pencils. We do occasionally call on new technologies. In our lacquered engravings, for example, the cloisonné is done by machine as it’s extremely delicate to achieve the required depth. Ultimately though, nothing can replace the human hand, and while certain components are given their rough form by machine, the finer work will always, always be done by hand.”

A clear determination

Jeanne Ulrich confirms this view: “I do everything by hand. Advances made these past few years bring us the benefit of technology at the start of a project, but the final decoration is my preserve. The work of our predecessors is a boundless source of inspiration. Engraving has been a part of horology since the dawn of time, and some truly extraordinary pieces have been produced. One of Fine Watchmaking’s characteristics is the desire to keep on implementing these crafts. It all comes down to where companies stand on the matter, and Vacheron Constantin is extremely coherent in its approach.” The biggest challenge facing Jeanne Ulrich is, she says, “to improve as I go on, but then we’re talking sheer pleasure!”

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