Art of time: Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie – Tribute to Johannes Vermeer

An iconic work of art is brought to life in stunning miniature form in this intricate and complex bespoke timepiece

Watches & Jewellery 27 Sep 2021

With its centuries of expertise, Vacheron Constantin represents some of the highest levels of haute horlogerie. And while its technical timekeeping and exquisite finishing shines through in its collections, it truly sings with its creations from its Les Cabinotiers department. The purest expression of craftsmanship and artistic flair, it brings to life the dreams and desires of clients with boundary-pushing, bespoke timepieces.

One of its latest masterpieces, the Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie – Tribute to Johannes Vermeer, perfectly expresses this coming together of advanced timekeeping with exquisite detailing. Taking inspiration from Dutch painter Vermeer’s iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring, the painting has been recreated in miniature with incredible detail on the back of the timepiece by master enameller Anita Porchet. Both the choice of material and the size of the canvas present significant challenges. Just a single layer of enamel on the girl’s turban required at least two weeks of work, while the complex colour palette required composition of multiple shades and several firings in the kiln to achieve the flawless finish. It took seven months in total to complete the artwork, with the research and development into the pigments and enamels starting years prior to the finished product.

The stunning depiction is just the beginning of the incredibly intricate finishing that went into the piece. The decorations that adorn the case similarly required the most skilled of engravers, carefully designed to complement the style of Vermeer’s painting. This is echoed in the ‘pearl’ border that surrounds the dial, while majestically sitting atop of the timepiece is a bow carved with two roaring lions, inspired by classical statues.

Despite the eye-catching exterior, some of the most astounding features of the watch can be found within, with the complex movement revealed by opening the hinged caseback. Grand Sonnerie watches represent the pinnacle of watchmaking, with this a particular accomplished example.

Powered by the in-house Calibre 376, in Grand Sonnerie mode the timepiece chimes the quarters in passing, with the hour repeated at each quarter. Via a selector positioned between 10 and 11 o’clock, it can be switched to Petite Sonnerie mode, instead striking the quarters at each change of quarter without repeating the hours, while in Sonnerie mode the watch is automatically activated each time the quarters change. Two further settings dial up the complexity further still. The ‘night silence’ mode, a special request of the client, deactivates the alarm between 11pm and 9am, meanwhile the ‘silence’ mode completely suspends the striking 80 hours for the time indications, with 15 to 18 hours for the musical mechanism in Grande Sonnerie mode.