By Rebecca Doulton
When admiring these Vacheron Constantin watches, inspired by the sublime illuminated pages of the 12th century Aberdeen Bestiary manuscript, you can almost imagine William of Baskerville and his apprentice Adso in "The Name of the Rose" peering over the shoulder of the illuminators, collecting clues to unravel the mystery of the murders.
Nine centuries later, Vacheron Constantin has recreated the unique beauty of this historical manuscript with its Métiers d'Art Savoirs Enluminés limited-edition collection of men's watches.
Like the copyists, gilders and illuminators who deployed their best skills to create the fabulous Aberdeen Bestiary, specialised artisans at Vacheron Constantin collaborate on different stages of the dial using skills such as miniature enamel painting, the application of different gold textures to recreate the gold leaf effect, and even engraving to honour the work of the medieval calligraphers.
The original beasts of the manuscript were designed to impart symbolic moral messages to a culture that relied almost entirely on visual metaphors. Vacheron Constantin watches has recreated the Vultures, the Caper and the Altion beasts in Grand Feu enamel for this new range of watches for men: the Vultures timepiece features two birds back-to-back creating a circle to symbolise infinity and longevity, while the Caper watch, with its midnight blue goat, represents sound judgement. The beautiful green seabird, known as the Altion, stands for serenity.
The dials of all three watches are built on two different levels: the enamelled beast occupies the raised, left part of the dial, giving way to a lower gold dial, which has been engraved with fragments of the Latin text of the Aberdeen Bestiary, and the minutes track.
Placed between these two levels are the hour numerals that perform an incredible dance, thanks to the exclusive ultra-thin movement with a dragging display entirely developed and crafted by Vacheron Constantin. The hours wheel turns in such a way as to place the hour numeral opposite the corresponding fixed minutes display. In this way, the hour numeral slides gradually down the minutes track before vanishing at the 60-minute mark, prompting the following numeral to appear at the 0-minute mark on the dial.
The white gold rectangular case of the three Savoirs Enluminés watches is engraved with the name of the beast on the caseband and has a transparent sapphire crystal caseback for a view on the ultra-thin - just 5.45mm - mechanical automatic movement. The gold oscillating weight has been decorated with a stylised depiction of the neo-Gothic architecture of King's College, Aberdeen University, where the manuscript is guarded today.
Limited to 20 pieces for each, the beauty of the evocative dials is a ticket back to the richly coloured metaphorical art of the Middle Ages. Luckily, 21st century artisans are unlikely to meet the fate of Umberto Eco's monks who unknowingly ingested poison as they licked their fingers to turn the pages of their illuminated manuscripts.