Vacheron Constantin's Pleats of Time concept watch melds the worlds of haute horlogerie, couture and fragrance

Created in collaboration with fashion designer Yiqing Yin and master perfumer Dominique Ropion, the timepiece is nano-encapsulated with perfume.

Couturier Yiqing Yin has been fronting Vacheron Constantin’s Égérie collection since its debut in 2020 (All photos: Vacheron Constantin)

To be in the lap of luxury means different things to different people. For some, it is to have the world’s most fascinating curios in their possession or to want for nothing in opulent fashion. But for others, it is a pleasure rarely enjoyed and is sometimes linked to an emotional set of memories scattered across the course of one’s life.

The recent work of Swiss luxury watchmaker Vacheron Constantin seeks to engender these long-forgotten fragments of time and lift them back to the surface of the mind once more. Imagined by Yiqing Yin, the first Chinese-born designer to be awarded the Haute Couture appellation for her eponymous fashion house by the Fédération Française de la Couture in 2015, and master perfumer Dominique Ropion — the expert nose behind Frédéric Malle’s acclaimed Portrait of a Lady — the Égérie Pleats of Time concept watch is an invitation to dwell in a state of reverie and bask in its enchantment.

Encircled with diamonds, a 37mm pink gold case frames a powdered lilac mother-of-pearl dial with undulating pleats unfolding in two stages. “Lilac is a very intimate, personal colour that enables daydreaming,” Yin thinks. “It’s really a hue that disconnects with reality. It evokes a state of weightlessness and being unrestricted. It’s also resolutely feminine, soft and delicate, and not a colour we expect from the maison. This type of cold pastel is what I love to use in the garments and fabrics I develop.”

The pleats, too, mirror the designer’s inimitable practice and aesthetic codes in fashion, where garments take on an ethereal elegance and dynamic movement. The Pleats of Time incorporates a moon phase as she finds it the most poetic among complications — one that relies on the rhythm of nature to tell time. As such, the Égérie collection’s asymmetrical moon phase and crown are retained and positioned at 2 o’clock while slender hour, minute and second hands sweep over the dial. But notice the absence of hour markers? It was done deliberately to promote reading time in an intuitive and emotional way.


Mother-of-pearl shards are embedded into the embroidery of the strap

“This is very akin to the mental space in which I’m in when I’m draping or creating couture and manipulating fabrics, which is a very instinctive, sometimes accidental process of work,” says Yin, who is also a Vacheron Constantin “One of Not Many” talent. At a roundtable discussion at Watches and Wonders in Geneva, the soft-spoken couturier expounds the idea of adding another sensory layer to the timepiece as she introduces Ropion, who sits across from her. “I thought that inviting in the olfactory dimension and Dominique’s skill in translating emotions into fragrance would be the perfect medium to help step out of this reality into a realm that is almost subconscious.”

An exclusive fragrance was developed and nano-encapsulated into all the components of the strap, perfuming its lining, loop and embroidery. Inlaid with mother-of-pearl shards, the haute couture strap embraces an organic pattern. Yin reveals that these iridescent fragments of nacre are actually remnants of the shell used for the dials. “So, it’s working with discarded pieces of nature to create something beautiful once again.” Silk threads criss-cross to form an abstract lace on the surface, adding to the visual irregularities that further bear the imprint of the human hand.

When it came to conjuring up a perfume, the idea was for Ropion to craft something that would elicit a sensorial perception of time, a fragrance that would be as universal as time itself. He aimed to create “a mineral scent with pastel, wintry, powdery and iridescent notes, playing with the sun and wisps of smoke”.

“We started by spending time with the universe of solar flowers,” he says. “And what we were looking for was something that was fruity, with some marine effect. We were also seeking out old and traditional products, such as incense and oud. When we think about oud, we think about something connected with time and something spiritual.” Ropion also made use of ingredients whose names tied to the theme, such as immortelle, an aromatic yellow wildflower said to have adorned the laurel worn by the mighty Apollo. “When combined together, these products bring some very big contrasts and in the end, we have something with a lot of nuances.”


Perfumer extraordinaire Dominique Ropion was tasked to create a scent as universal as time itself

For those who want a more detailed description: the scent has a mineral and marine accord of ozonic notes and galbanum. Soft lavender and orange blossom swirl with a fresh and wintry honeysuckle and immortelle accord. Tuberose and ylang-ylang complement the bright pop of orange and lemon. And it mimics the wisps of time passing with olibanum, myrrh and opoponax incense as well as oud. The bouquet is incredibly complex, but the elements fall harmoniously into place. For some reason, it is strangely familiar, which endows it with a layer of nostalgia.

We know that particular scents can trigger memories and emotions and it seems that the Ropion creation succeeds to do just that. Our only gripe? It is currently unnamed.

Each component of the strap was steeped in encapsulated droplets of the perfume concentrate. Therefore, the scent is released randomly in step with the wrist movements of the wearer. While this practice may seem novel to some, it is a revisitation for Yin and Ropion.

Yin was a student at the famed École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris when they first met more than a decade ago. “My school struck a collaboration with IFF (Institute of Flavours and Fragrances). They put us in pairs to develop products and I was super lucky that Dominique chose my work and illustrated it by creating a perfume for my diploma collection.” The creative partnership ensued even after graduation and then the roles were reversed. “A few years back, we were invited by the France Pavilion to do an experimental project for the Dubai Expo. Dominique created a dedicated perfume and I was tasked to illustrate the fragrance into a dress that was nano-encapsulated with that perfume. And I think that was the genesis for all these projects that came after.”

Similarly, Yin designed a haute couture number to accompany the narration of the Égérie concept watch. “I’ve also infused it with nano-dye, which is the process of spraying iridescent particles of metal on a satin surface. They will change colour depending on the angle, light and the way the pleats move,” she explains. On top of that, she designed a 100-piece limited edition lilac Égérie Moon Phase with her name engraved on the caseback. No perfumed straps on this, but there are three interchangeable ones to play with. The watches, fragrance and dress will travel around the world to be exhibited, so fingers crossed Malaysia would eventually be one of its destinations.


Yin also designed a dress that incorporates nano-dye

The convergence between haute horlogerie, haute couture and haute parfumerie is an unfrequented intersection. “Haute horlogerie is a very structured and rational process of work and that kind of technical constraint is something I was not very used to,” Yin admits.

“I think the difficulty was to find a way to negotiate our encounters between my fluidity and ideas and the rigidity of watchmaking. It’s even more interesting as the perfume comes into it being almost like a negotiator of intentions because it carries the emotional perceptive. But at the same time, the science, rigour and analytic process is also found in the precision of watchmaking.”

Regardless of the hurdles, all parties possess a strong desire to challenge their respective fields of expression. “A pioneering spirit that we share in all three of our domains is the willingness to take risks and push boundaries. The actual concept watch was made for the beauty of the gesture, you know? It’s a proposition, a poetic endeavour and an exercise to plant some seeds in order to conceive time and luxury differently,” Yin points out.

“I’m so proud to present this collaboration watch. But for me, the most moving aspect of it was the process of the making. What I keep is the experience, the exchange, the clash of intentions and stepping out of my zone of knowledge and comfort to discover something I didn’t know — that feeling I will remember. It is precisely the suspended time I wanted to illustrate by this whole endeavour, which is one you cannot predict and you have to accept to lose yourself in order to discover something new.”


This article first appeared on June 3, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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