On the 19th September 1783 Pilatre De Rozier, a scientist, launched the first hot air balloon called ‘Aerostat Reveillon’. … The first manned attempt came about 2 months later on 21st November, with a balloon made by 2 French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. The hot air balloons used by the Montgolfiers were made for them by a wallpaper manufacturer named Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, out of taffetta with a varnish coating and they were highly ornamented.
Vacheron Constantin pays tribute to this exhilarating chapter in history with its Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection unveiled at this year’s SIHH.
This new Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers collection includes five incredible artistic crafts timepieces celebrating five flights taken on hot air balloons in France between 1783 and 1785. On the scale of a watch dial, the master engravers at VC also accomplish an authentic feat: faithfully reproducing in miniature the historical depictions of these flights.
The five watches Vacheron’s created feature two notable craft techniques: bas-relief engraving (this technique involves creating gradually more and more detailed relief engravings by removing material) and an enameling technique called plique-à-jour, which duplicates the appearance of stained glass.
The first, is the animal test flight that took place at Versailles in 1783. The basket of the balloon and animals are done in white gold, and the balloon itself is in 5N rose gold.
The next in the series commemorates the first manned flights by the Montgolfier brothers, with a pink and white gold balloon, decorated with an astronomical motif.
In 1784, a balloonist named Blanchard attempted to create a system for guiding a balloon through the air through the use of wings attached to the basket; the design was not successful, but it made for a very ornamental balloon.
The degree to which the lifting bags of the balloons were decorated offers a great deal of scope for the engraver’s art; the scene below commemorates a flight which took place in Bordeaux in 1784. There is a very elaborately detailed scene from classical mythology on the bag of the balloon, which took place with three aeronauts.
Finally, a flight which took place in Bagnols in 1785, and which was viewed by a crowd of ten thousand spectators, is depicted by a balloon with a white and yellow gold basket, against a blue plique-à-jour background. This particular balloon was later cut apart “to make clothes for Republican volunteers” according to Vacheron.
The five pieces are cased in an 18K white gold case measuring 40 mm in diameter, they all feature 18K gold hand engraved balloons and are available in a limited edition of 5 pieces each, all priced at $135,000 USD.