Just Because: 'Blanc de Limoges' Enamel Dials At Vacheron Constantin Geneva
Blanc de Limoges is named for the city of Limoges – one of the most famous focuses of porcelain production, yet which historically was a major place for enameling as well. Blanc de Limoges utilizes porcelain powder, rather than vitreous enamel, which allows the artisan to develop surfaces after repeated firings. In traditional vitreous (grand feu) enameling, the enamel flattens when terminated, however blanc de Limoges allows for the creation of a more three dimensional impact than can usually be achieved, as well as the ability – a characteristic of all monochromatic artworks – to generate visual drama, and to emphasize the direction and power of lighting on the subject.
Blanc de Limoges is a style of grisaille (from the French gris, or gray) enameling, in which only black, white, and shades of gray are utilized. Master enamelists often produce miniature reproductions of paintings; the above dial is a grisaille rendering of a famous painting by Degas: Two Dancers On Stage , completed in 1877. The original artwork is notable for the harsh lighting coming from the footlights, gleaming on the dancers from underneath, which the dial duplicates, along with the softer shapes of the backdrop behind the performers.
Not all of Degas’ work showed dancers performing and he did many artworks showing rehearsals, practice studios, and dance lessons. This particular dial shows the three dimensionality you can get with the blanc de Limoges technique, particularly in the surface of the garments worn by the dance master and the dancers.
These models were reads for the watches that were finally released, in 2013, as the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Hommage à l’Art de la Danse watches.
Applying the enamel utilizing the blanc de Limoges technique.
Preparation of the dial for firing.
The textural quality of blanc de Limoges also fits naturalistic subjects, for example, this depiction of a dandelion seed head, with the moment “parachutes” floating off into space.
The level of detail, executed on a particularly fine scale, is really amazing. You can also see evidence of the painstaking work necessary to refine the method; there is some crazing of the enamel noticeable in the lower focal point of the image. Crazing, cracking, and foaming can occur easily with even small variations in temperature, dampness, and length of firing, and since each design has its own extraordinary properties – especially on account of blanc de Limoges, in which the thickness of the enamel surface varies – each dial requires its own exceptional approach to the numerous firings necessary to complete a dial.
The procedure can also be utilized in portraiture as well – in this example, the surface of the subject’s skin is rendered in an exceptionally tactile fashion, which wouldn’t be conceivable with other grand feu enameling strategies. Blanc de Limoges is a fascinating and rather specialty component in the overall collection of enameling, with its own special challenges – and its own particular range of conceivable stylish effects.
Check out the current Métiers d’Art collection at vacheron.com.
For a gander at later examples of Vacheron’s Métiers d’Art offerings, here’s our coverage of Vacheron Constantin Copernic ‘Celestial Spheres’ Metiers d’Art , launched at the 2017 SIHH.