Vacheron Constantin Reveals The World’s First Perfumed Watch With A Haute Couture Strap

The Swiss brand ventures beyond tradition into a more experiential and interdisciplinary realm to create a surprising concept timepiece that melds watchmaking with haute couture and high perfumery.
by Charmian Leong

Photo: Vacheron Constantin

Appreciating a mechanical timepiece is a fairly straightforward process that involves the senses of sight, touch, and sound. You admire its beauty, relish its weight and textures, and take pleasure in the clicking of gears or the exquisite ring of chimes.

Not counting the satirical Swiss Mad Watch that H. Moser crafted from actual Swiss cheese in 2017, no one needs or wants to taste their watch. But would you be open to smelling it?

Vacheron Constantin certainly thought it was an idea worth exploring, as it revealed the world’s first perfumed luxury watch at this year’s Watches and Wonders in Geneva. Known as the Egerie – Pleats of Time, the one-off concept watch was designed with the expertise of Paris-based haute couturier Yiqing Yin, and has been infused with nanocapsules containing a fragrance created by French master perfumer Dominique Ropion.

Paris-based haute couture designer Yiqing Yin. (Photo: Vacheron Constantin)

Meeting of minds

Newly inducted as Vacheron Constantin’s “One of Not Many” talent collaborators, Yin has been a regular face at Paris Fashion Week since 2011. A permanent member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, she is recognised for her modern and artistic style, often using fabrics in unexpected, sometimes architectural ways.

The Swiss watchmaker is the latest in the designer’s long line of high-profile partners, which have previously included Cartier, Hermes, Guerlain, and Lancome. Meanwhile, Ropion is considered one of the most innovative noses of his generation, who is adept at various olfactory styles, calling Frederic Malle, Viktor & Rolf, Kenzo, and Thierry Mugler some of his clients.

The Egerie – Pleats of Time is conceptualised with a lilac colourway, which is novel for Vacheron Constantin, because it reminds Yin of a daydream, and evokes a sense of feminine weightlessness. Unlike the standard Egerie watches, there are no hour markers on this 37mm diamond-set pink gold model, leaving only the collection’s signature pleated pattern to highlight the beauty of the mother-of-pearl dial.

The pattern unfolds in two stages: in the centre, encircled by fine gold pearls, then extending outwards into the edge. She also chose the Egerie Moonphase watch as the base model, as she finds it “the most poetic complication because of its connection to the pulse of nature”.

The strap is where Yin sought to create visual and tactile juxtaposition using a braided lacework of mother-of-pearl shards and silk thread embroidery — couture techniques she is well-known for. “The irregularities adorning the strap bear the imprint of the human hand, creating a visual dialogue with the pure geometry of the dial,” she explains.

French master perfumer Dominique Ropion (Credit: Vacheron Constantin)

Ropion wanted one “that would be universal, like time itself” in developing the fragrance. He describes his original concoction as “a mineral scent with pastel, wintry, powdery, and iridescent notes, playing with the sun and wisps of smoke”. To do this, he included ingredients like lavender, orange blossom, honeysuckle, tuberose, citrus, incense, and oud.

Vacheron Constantin then worked with a French company specialising in nanoencapsulation to inject Ropion’s formula into the strap. Each component, such as the lining, loop, and embroidery, was steeped in these encapsulations.

According to the Swiss watchmaker, the fragrance would be released at random, based on how the strap rubs against the skin and the way the wrist moves. But since it’s a single-piece concept watch that likely wouldn’t be worn anytime soon, all questions pertaining to how long the fragrance would last were met with variations of “it depends”.

The Egerie Concept Watch is adorned with a lilac mother-of-pearl and pleated-pattern dial, with a strap featuring braided lacework of mother-of-pearl shards and silk thread embroidery. (Photo: Vacheron Constantin)

Whiff of the future

As impractical as the idea might seem now, it has opened up exciting possibilities for how luxury watches can be made and experienced in the future. Indeed, there are challenges. Yin relates the difficulty of infusing her intuition and creativity into “the rigorously disciplined world of haute horlogerie” to transform a watch into an “object of emotion”.

She elaborates, “I was confronted with the unprecedented technical constraints of watchmaking, seeking to find a point of convergence with my artistic process.”

For Ropion, it is about how to translate time into fragrance, a task he found exciting and complex. “Yiqing referred to the cycle of the tides, with the pleats characterising her work; the sun that lights and warms us with its rays and imparts a cadence to our days; along with amethyst and its colour. The ingredients I’ve selected represent a translation of these ideas into scents.”

Certainly, one also should not underestimate the power of scent, even if smell is not one of the senses typically associated with horology. Ropion adds, “A fragrance that one smells again — even after many years — has this singular ability to transcend time and bring back long-buried memories.”

The Egerie Moonphase comes with three self-interchangeable straps in lilac, powder pink, and night blue. (Photo: Vacheron Constantin)

Admirers of this intriguing, one-off creation need not despair, especially if they are drawn to its enchantingly elegant aesthetics and Yin’s creative expression. The collaboration has also produced another 100-piece limited edition of the Egerie Moonphase inspired by the concept watch.

The dial follows the lilac colourway of The Pleats of Time, with three self-interchangeable straps in hues developed by Yin: lilac Mississippiensis alligator leather, powder-pink grained calfskin leather, and night-blue satin-effect calfskin leather.

Like the concept watch, it features the asymmetrical geometry so cherished by the maison, whose name appears at 8 o’clock in a diagonal, as well as the mesmerising mother-of-pearl and pink gold moonphase indication and a moonstone-set crown at 2 o’clock. There are more similarities: the 37mm pink gold case, the 92 diamonds totalling 1.10 carats, and the mechanical self-winding 1088L manufacture calibre.

It could be a while more before watchmakers can finally incorporate scents or couture straps readily into their for-retail novelties. But with this innovation in mind, we know for sure that a timepiece can be more than just a keeper of time; it has the potential to become the culmination of an unconventional range of artistic expressions beyond the traditional crafts and a sensorial treasure trove of life’s precious moments.

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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