Capturing the Beauty Of the Arcanthus Leaf, in Less than a Millimetre

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Capturing the Beauty Of the Arcanthus Leaf, in Less than a Millimetre

Art forms come and go like the ebb and flow of the tide. What is considered to be the ultimate expression of wealth and status might be a gaudy trinket to another generation of artists. Through it all though the acanthus leaf has remained as a highly desirable form of ornamentation. Inspired by the leaves from the Acanthus genus of plants, some of the earliest representations of the acanthus leaves in antiquity dates back to the fifth century BC, where it was a characteristic ornamental element in classic Greek architecture. Since then it has been recreated in countless artistic creations dotted across the history of Western civilisation, especially during the Renaissance and the Baroque period.

The beauty and intricate form of this stylised shape gives artists an inexhaustible interpretive freedom. A symbol of eternity, victory, and glory, the motif has been used to adorn a number of pocket-watch movements at the heart of the Vacheron Constantin heritage, and now it is seen once again in all its elegant splendour with the Swiss watchmaker’s latest addition to their Métiers d’Art collection, the Mécaniques Gravées 14-day tourbillon.

Etched into functional parts of the Mécaniques Gravées 14-day tourbillon’s Calibre 2260, the acanthus leaves brings a classical touch to the openworked timepiece, forging a link to past creations from Vacheron Constantin. As a demonstration of the talent of the Swiss maison’s virtuoso master-engravers, the movement composition is maintained, with no part to be engraved made any thicker to facilitate the task of the engraver, who would have to sculpt the intricate pattern on surfaces that are less than a millimetre thick.

The champlevé technique involves hollowing the structure to a depth of 2/10ths of a millimetre to create a volume effect and bring out the raised motif

In addition, the engraving works are done on parts that have been previously bevelled, straight-grained, circular-grained, and polished by the decorative artisans of the Manufacture. Working with only a chisel, a master engraver would carefully remove a certain amount of material using the champlevé technique, an operation involving hollowing the structure to a depth of 2/10ths of a millimetre to create a volume effect and bring out the raised motif. This is especially challenging with parts measuring less than 0.35mm thick, thus posing a considerable risk of distorting the metal of a finely-built mechanism. This painstaking process takes more than ten days to engrave a single calibre.

The completed movement is then placed in a 41mm-diametre round case in 950 platinum, featuring a concave bezel that further intensifies the finesse of the engraved artwork. The architecture of the 231-part movement features two large bridges with the delicately hand-engraved motifs, and clearly visible through the sapphire crystal back of the case. On the display side the Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Gravées 14-day tourbillon provides a stunning view of the tourbillon cage shaped in the watchmaker’s iconic Maltese Cross that is adorned with the most refined finishes. A fitting piece to commemorate 260 years of an icon of haute horlogerie.

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