It takes a lot to surprise the HODINKEE editorial team, with well over 100 years of watch reporting experience among us. Crazy ideas? We’ve seen a few. But we couldn’t believe our inboxes when we saw that Vacheron Constantin is teaming up with The Louvre and Christie’s to auction off a custom, one-of-a-kind watch with an enamel dial painted to look like the winning bidder’s favorite work of art from the famed Paris museum, with proceeds benefiting community programming at the Louvre.
We’ll give you a second here to digest all of that.
Vacheron’s distinctive Les Cabinotiers program leverages the manufacture’s multiple in-house artistic craft departments, which do gem-setting, enameling, and more under the same roof as the watchmaking itself. It’s produced some serious show-stoppers over the last few years too, including the Mechaniques Sauvages pieces, the La Musique Du Temps pieces, and the Ref. 57260 pocket watch (the most complicated watch ever made).
But this latest watch pushes the ideas of a “custom” and “artistic” watch to a whole new level. The winner of Christie’s online auction (which ends December 15) will visit both Paris and Geneva, personally select a favorite artwork from the Louvre’s collection to be reproduced in enamel on their watch’s dial, and then take delivery of their own tiny masterpiece. The watch itself will be a three-hander with a 40mm case made of platinum, pink gold, or white gold, featuring a hinged officer-style caseback with an engraving underneath (and the in-house caliber 2460 SC also visible). But come on, this one’s obviously not about the movement.
If we won the auction, here’s the art we’d be picking:
Winged Victory Of Samothrace – Artist Unknown
If I’m buying a watch with artwork from the Louvre on it, I’m gonna pick a piece that’s extra Louvre-ish (for lack of a better word). It’s definitely not the Mona Lisa – too obvious – plus, who wants her staring at you all day? It’d need to be something high-impact, something like The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
If you’ve ever had the honor of visiting the Louvre, you’ve seen this massive marble statue looming over the crowds. It’s truly beautiful and (like a great watch) makes you wonder how something so astounding could’ve possibly been made by hand. Representing the goddess of victory, this Hellenistic statue would look amazing on a watch. In a dream world, I’d do mine in steel for a touch of grit with my fancy grisaille dial. But since it’s only available in precious metals, I suppose — sigh — I would settle for the platinum.
– Cara Barrett
The Coronation Of Napoleon – Jacques-Louis David
I’m going for maximum contrast here. My wife has a Ph.D. in French Literature, so we’ve spent a decent amount of time in Paris over the years, and one Louvre painting I try to see as often as possible is Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation Of Napoleon. It hangs in an upper gallery, around the corner from the always-mobbed (and honestly not that great) Mona Lisa, and it’s absolutely bonkers: a 32-foot-wide, 20-foot-tall depiction of Napoleon crowning himself Emperor in the cathedral of Notre Dame.
Think about the audacity it takes to tell the Pope that you’d rather crown yourself than have him do it. “Nah, Pius VII, I got this.” Shrinking this down to fit on a one-and-a-half-inch watch dial is probably impossible, but I’d like to see the masters at Vacheron Constantin try. And it’d save me money on redeye tickets to Paris if they could pull it off too.
– Stephen Pulvirent
The Astronomer – Johannes Vermeer
If you’re going to commission a painstaking recreation of a famous piece of artwork for a watch dial, you might as well make the task as difficult for the artist as possible. Give ’em a chance to flex a little, you know? With that in mind – and since Saturn Devouring His Son is not part of the Louvre’s collection – let’s get cracking on a miniaturization of The Astronomer by the incredible Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.
Part of the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer is celebrated for his incredible, often photo-like, treatment of light and detail (if you want to see just how incredible, watch the documentary Tim’s Vermeer). More to the point, The Astronomer is not only a simply gorgeous portrait of a stargazer sitting at his desk, it’s also the right sort of genre for an art-watch. The balance of the imagery would allow for a centralized handset without spoiling the subject — not to mention the wonderful way in which light emanates from the window.
– James Stacey
The Bid For The Louvre sale is live now and closes at 9:00 AM ET on December 15, and this custom Vacheron Constantin experience carries an estimate of €100,000-300,000. The proceeds benefit social and educational programs at The Louvre as well. Check out the full listing here.