Vacheron Constantin has produced the third and last boxed set in its series "Metiers d'Art La Symbolique des Laques." This is about the combination of the ancient art of Japanese lacquer, with the house Zôhiko, Kyoto, founded in 1661, and the Swiss watch brand, operational from 1755.
Zôhiko works in the area of Maki-e, a sophisticated lacquer technique in which gold or silver dust is sprinkled onto lacquer before it dries to create original and unique decorations. The new Vacheron Constantin series comprises a set of three watches with double dials, in 20-piece limited editions.
The latest set is based on the natural beauty of the seasons, named "Setsugekka." The motifs are snowflakes, cherry blossom and the full moon. All this provides the backdrop for the Vacheron Constantin ultra-flat 1003 calibre movement, open-worked for greater visual intricacy. It is made in 18-carat gold, with ruthenium that tones the gold down to highlight the Maki-e dials. The 1003 movement is just 1.64 mm thick, making it the thinnest hand-wound movement in the world. It is 21.1 mm in diamter, with 117 components, and a 30-hour power reserve. Its functions are limited to hours and minutes. There are sapphire crystals on both front and back, which reveals the workmanship.
The question of the "world's thinnest movement" is open to debate, because Vacheron Constantin, Piaget and others all claim this accolade for models, albeit in different categories - hand-wound, automatic, tourbillon and so forth. I don't think this is of great significance, because in any case these brands are engaged in a quest for quality and perfection that puts them in a league above world records. In this case, the Maki-e lacquering provides an interesting decorative motif on the watch, but personally I am more attracted by the beauty of the movement itself that by the gold and silver Maki-e lacquer. The overall design is superbly clean, with beautiful integration of the circular case with the lugs and croc leather strap. The exposed part of the movement is remarakable for how the maison has utilized gold, ruthenium-treated gold (which creates a matt black finish), silver and sapphires to produce an interesting visual effect.
The Maki-e technique (the name translates as "scintillating painting") dates back to the Heian period of Imperial Japan (794-1185) but it reached its height in the Edo period (1603-1868). Originally used for household objects in the imperial court, it naturally became a status symbol. Today it is used on pens as well as in watches. The lacquer used in the technique comes from the resin of a tree, Rhus verniciflua, which contains urushiol, poisonous to touch until it has dried completely. This is one of the reasons why lacquer techniques require such incredible skill. Maki-e is even more complex, because the fragments of gold and silver leaf and powder have to be positioned onto the lacquer before it dries.