L'Epée and Fiona Krüger Explore Life and Death with Vanitas Skull Clock
The skull is the ultimate symbol of life, death, and human experience – as such it has played a key role in both horological history and art history. Through Fiona Krüger’s artistic approach to haute horlogerie and L’Epée’s know-how, the skull has been re-interpreted into a mechanical Vanitas painting for the 21st Century.
Quick history lesson: A Vanitas is a still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects to remind the viewer of the transience of life. This was an important and popular genre of painting in the 1600’s and include symbols like skulls and extinguished candles.
Vanitas is engineered and crafted by L’Epée 1839, Switzerland's specialized high-end clock manufacturer, founded in 1839. This charismatic cranium reminds you to celebrate life. The hours and minutes are shown by the clock’s hands, and a power reserve indicator is integrated into the mouth of the skull. As Vanitas loses power it starts to yawn, indicating it needs to be wound up. Though with a 40-day power-reserve, this monthly ritual will give you a moment to stop and take stock of the time you have.
Fiona’s fine art and design training, combined with her international upbringing are apparent in the design of this mechanical symbol. Having spent part of her childhood in Mexico City, her vivid memories of the Dia de los Muertos festival have influenced her own skull collection and this latest collaboration with L’Epée. This mechanical Vanitas is rich in symbolism but also in humor. The bridges of the clock are intricately detailed, designed to build up into a pattern that ultimately forms this ornate skull.
Creativity is at the heart of both L’Epée 1839 and Fiona Krüger timepieces. This is evident in L’Epée’s acceptance of the challenge to create this modern-day Vanitas with a humorous twist. The new “yawning” power reserve indicator required a whole new development and re-engineering of the clock movement. It is a marriage between fantasy and purpose, which is at the core of the collaboration.
The ideas of life, time and mortality are synonymous and even more relevant in mechanical clock-making today than they have ever been. The unique design of the skull imitating yawning as the power reserve depletes, joined with the ability to bring the clock to life as its wound up, reflects the history of clock making where fantasy, creativity and purpose were all incorporated in equal measure to create designs which made people dream.
Like Nothing Before It
When picturing a clock in your mind, everyone has a similar idea – round, 12 hours, two hands. Vanitas defies convention – the clock is itself a skull, with mechanical eyes, a moving mouth and a distinctive case shape that frames the skull-shaped movement inside. The multi-layered bridges each have a specifically chosen finishing and décor, bringing depth to this sculptural skull. The hands bring a sense of familiarity to this innovative design which defies convention and brings together the worlds of fine art and haute horlogerie.
Vanitas looks best when the piece is hung on the wall. Just imagine entering a dark room with the ticking sound of the movement lightly echoing inside, the distinctive outlines of the skull coming into focus before you look into the skull’s mechanical eyes... Flick the lights up, and if you dare walk closer, you'll get the chance to appreciate the complexity of the L’Epée movement, made up of approximately 400 components.
Next to contemporary wall clocks, Vanitas stands out like a bold brush stroke on a blank canvas. This new co-creation features a frontal escapement, two barrel arbors as “pupils,” all designed to sculpt the mechanical skull’s face. Vanitas indicates the time by way of two hands that are centrally mounted on the nose. These hand-polished hands indicate the hours and minutes, hiding and revealing the skull’s eyes as if it was playing hide-and-seek.
The power reserve indicator is framed by two rows of teeth that open up as time passes, providing an intuitive view of the remaining energy. When the mouth is completely open (18.5mm apart from each other) the clock looks like it is yawning as a warning to its owner that it will go to sleep if some energy is not provided.
Wristwatch on the Wall?
Vanitas is a one-of-a-kind wall luxury clock that features essentially the same mechanisms as a wristwatch, only larger: gear train, mainspring barrels (well, five in series), balance wheel, escape wheel and anchor. L’Epée’s regulator also features an Incabloc shock protection system, something generally only seen in wristwatches, which minimizes the risk of damage when the clock is being transported.
Larger components, however, make finely finishing the movement much more challenging than finishing a wristwatch, because of the bigger surface areas. L’Epée CEO Arnaud Nicolas explains: “It’s not just a case of double the size of the components, double the time it takes to finish them. The complexity increases exponentially. For polishing you need to apply the same pressure as you would finishing a watch movement, but on a bigger surface, and that’s more challenging. It’s thanks to the experience and dexterity of our clockmakers that the Vanitas clock can feature such superlative fine-finishing.”
Form Follows Function
Form follows function is a principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. When it is reinterpreted by L’Epée 1839, the movement and the shape of the clock become one. The clock is no longer made of a movement and a housing that gives the clock its shape. The movement itself defines the shape of the clock and the design cannot be recognized without the movement. The eyes are the barrels (two of them), the mouth is the power reserve, the philtra (the indentation above the upper lip) is the differential allowing the teeth to open.
Vanitas is limited to 50 pieces each for the dark and colorful editions.