JUN 29, 2017
Vacheron Constantin Métiers D’Art Villes Lumières Beijing Watch
It’s no secret that the Chinese market’s insatiable appetite for luxury watches has long been crucial to maintaining the general growth and health of the Swiss watch industry. But in 2016, when the Chinese government enacted anti-corruption policies designed to bolster local purchasing and dramatically reign in duty and tax breaks on international purchases, that demand began to wane, and the Swiss watch industry quickly felt the squeeze. Consequently, with large-volume purchases bound for China quickly becoming a thing of the past, Swiss watchmakers had to re-double their efforts to entice the same retail tourists who once unloaded in front of boutiques in droves. In the past, those efforts have been subtle, but the new Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Beijing watch inspired by a bird’s-eye view of central Beijing at night seems to suggest that no one is feeling the growing pressure more than Vacheron Constantin.
Now, intent aside, before you draw your own conclusions about the aesthetic of this watch based on the dial alone, it’s worth first respecting the immense amount of traditional artistry and complex handwork required to bring this urban “light cartography" to life. Starting with an 18k gold dial base, the outlines of Beijing’s most recognizable parks and waterways are first painstakingly hollowed out by hand. The “grand feu” (or “great fire”) enameling process is next, as the darkly, iridescent blue of the nighttime scene is rendered through the repeated hand-application and firing of multiple hues of translucent colored enamels. The city streets themselves then take shape under the watchful eye of calligraphy master Yoko Imai, who carefully dusts the dial (by hand, of course) with tiny flecks of gold, platinum, pearl, and diamond. The time-only display is finished with a skeletonized, white gold handset, so as not to disrupt the illusion that one were staring down upon the Forbidden City surrounded by the many twinkling lights of Beijing itself.
Now, if a watch were a sum of its complexities, the Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Beijing exists without question, in rarified air. It’s impressive even for Vacheron, as it marries some of watchmaking’s most complex, and time-honored techniques around gem-setting, enameling and engraving in a singular celebration. But is it enough to overlook the fact that the dial still looks a little too "lo-fi" for its near six-figure asking price? Or that it still feels a bit John-Cusack-standing-in-the-rain-with-a-boombox-desperate? To be fair, Chinese buyers aren’t the only markets with a Maltese cross-shaped bullseye on their backs – Beijing also joins Geneva, New York, and the "city of lights" itself, Paris, in the Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières collection.
Nineties movie references aside, flip the 40mm case over, and we’re greeted with a welcome sight, and one we can all probably agree upon: Vacheron’s finely decorated 22k rotor winding the Calibre 2460. This in-house manufactured automatic movement comes correct with Vacheron’s exemplary beveling, circular graining, and polishing – all embellishments that rightfully assist with earning the watch a Geneva Seal for excellence in both finishing and timekeeping.
All things considered, the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières Beijing watch probably leaves more questions than answers. Certainly the new Chinese legislation is partially to blame for flagging sales, but it could also be argued that the foreign appetites that once sustained the Swiss watch economy have also matured to the point of recognizing that further excess – no matter how artistic it may be – is a poor choice for attempting to rekindle a relationship defined by the very thing that got it into trouble in the first place.
The Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières collection will be available exclusively from Vacheron Constantin boutiques, where each watch will be delivered with a loupe, presumably so its new owner may endeavor to find the tiny bits of diamond dust representing their luxury condo glittering somewhere in the dial’s relief. Those who take no issue with the pretense under which this watch was designed may add it to their collection for a price of $93,300.