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What makes Vacheron Constantin the ‘Most Complicated Watch’ ever?

by Neelima Agrawal

For the information of the uninitiated, in horology a complication is any function on a hand crafted watch other than display of time. Haute horology is all about watches where highly skilled craftsmen create with precision such complications as date complications, chronograph complications, tourbillion, calendar complications et al. More the number of complications, the longer it takes to create each time piece, making them limited edition collector’s items, desired and coveted, often specially commissioned, sold at auctions for sky high prices.

In this realm of grandes complications, Vacheron Constantin has pulled off the unimaginable. Reference 57260 is a watch-collector’s fantasy, this masterpiece of a watch has incorporated 57 complications, a result of relentless work by a team of the company’s Master Watchmakers for eight years. The two never-seen-before features that are built into this watch are the multiple calendars and double retrograde rattrapante chronograph. All calculations and designs had to be developed from scratch to create this new calibre of movement, considered to be the greatest contribution to the advancement of mechanical watch making since the 1920s.

About Reference 57260

Made of solid 18-carat white gold, polished with glazed bezels on each side, the case has a three-position winding crown with corresponding indication window on the case band to show the position of the crown during winding or setting. A co-axial button in the crown controls the start/stop and return-to-zero functions of the double retrograde chronograph and the push-button in the case band at 11 o’clock activates and restarts the rattrapante chronograph function.

Each side of the watch has a dial made of solid silver, while the rotating discs for the displays are made of aluminium so as to be lightweight and therefore require only the slightest energy to move. The dial displays the hours, minutes and seconds on separate chapter rings. This first dial displays some of the entirely new functions developed by the Vacheron Constantin watchmakers for the first time ever in this watch.

The Complications

1. The Hebraic Perpetual Calendar

Highly complicated mathematical calculations combining both the lunar months and solar year were transcribed into not only an operational mechanism but also a display, to incorporate the long-term changing cycle of the Hebraic Calender, which works on the principle of the 19-year Metonic cycle. On this watch, the Metonic cycle (also called Golden Number) is displayed as a sector at 3 o’clock concentric with the chronograph hour register. The sacred date of Yom Kippur indicated in the Gregorian calendar each year, is represented by the corresponding retrograde hand at 6 o’clock, which returns to its starting point every 19 years, at which time the sector is replaced for another for each of the 19 year cycles. The Jewish New Year begins again in September 2015 with therefore the Hebrew year 5776. Tishrei is the first month of the Hebrew calendar. The Vacheron Constantin moon phase system requires correction only once every 1027 years.

2. Double Retrograde “Rattrapante” Chronograph

This is the first watch ever to be made with a rattrapante chronograph with double retrograde action. It is not only a highly visual complication but mechanically ingenious. This new chronograph is read by the user exactly in the manner of a classic split-seconds chronograph. To create this function, a new chronograph mechanism was invented. In addition, the two long chronograph hands give perfect stability and extreme accuracy during operation. There are two register dials for the chronograph counting each elapsed minute up to 60-minutes and each elapsed hour up to 12-hours so that events of up to 12-hours in duration can be accurately recorded.

4. The Westminster Chiming

This watch offers 3 possible striking modes, besides two additional options to choose from; Grande sonnerie – striking the hours and the quarters at every passing quarter and alternatively Petite sonnerie – striking the full hours at the hour but only a quarter-strike without hours on the quarters.

1. Striking – the watch chimes automatically at each passing quarter hour, in the same way as a clock. With five hammers striking five finely tuned steelgongs, the chiming sequence is that of “Big Ben”, the clock of the Palace of Westminster in London.

2. Night silence – A special system has been developed, whereby (in this instance) between the hours of 10pm at night and 8am in the morning, the watch does not chime 3. Silence – chiming switched off when it is not desired.

5. Alarm

The main feature of this mechanism is that it offers either a traditional alarm of single gong with single hammer or Westminster carillon full chiming alarm in either Grande or Petite sonnerie mode.

6. The Second Dial and Further Functions

The blue star chart in the upper half of the dial represents the night sky and the star constellations in home city, with the months appearing around the edge. Concentric around the outer border is the scale for the retrograde date of the perpetual calendar, the hand “flying” back to its start point at the end of each month. Subsidiary dials for the days of the week and the months flank the star dial and the aperture above the month dial shows the number of the year between 1 and 4 in the leap-year cycle. Around the edge of the dial are three astronomic scales which are read using the central gold hand identified by its sun counterpoise. The outermost scale is for the months of the year and their respective number of days, while a concentric scale for the year divided into Zodiac sign periods additionally indicates the dates of the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. The inter-related four seasons are displayed on a further inner concentric ring.

The sector above the tourbillion aperture indicates Equation of Time showing the discrepancy between true solar time and standard meantime which fluctuates during the year but can be ahead by as much as 16 minutes (around November 3rd) and behind by 14 minutes (around February 12th). Solar and meantime are equal on just four occasions each year. Flanking the tourbillon aperture are two dual sectors for the time of sunrise and day length and time of sunset and night length in the user’s home city. These indications are in fact another relevant factor in the Gregorian calendar in which the days are calculated from the hours of light and darkness and not strictly set times.

Another first is the 12-hour second time zone dial with separate day and night indicator window located in the 10 o’clock position: used in conjunction with the digitally displayed world-time function which gives a choice of 24 cities and countries and their respective time deviations from Greenwich Meantime.

7. The Dual-Function Perpetual Calendar

Including the Hebraic perpetual calendar seen on the other dial, this watch has the ability to provide three entirely different perpetual calendar readings. The Gregorian perpetual calendar which automatically corrects itself for the appropriate number of days in the month and the leap-years can be read on the dial using the retrograde date, the days of the week and months dials, with the leap-year window displaying a number between 1 and 4 located to the right of the retrograde date sector.

The ISO 8601 business calendar is a specific system founded by the International Organization for Standardization and used mainly in the international financial sector. The purpose of this standard is to provide an unambiguous method of representing dates and times, so as to avoid misinterpretation of numeric representations of dates and times, particularly when data are transferred between countries with different conventions for writing numeric dates and times.

When the ISO 8601 mode is employed, the number of the week within the year and the number of the day within the week takes precedence over the traditional calendar month and traditional date, the number of the week is read from the dial concentric to the month indication and the number of the day within the week is indicated by a number between 1 (for Monday) and 7 (for Sunday) in a window directly above the week dial.

The last week of the year in the ISO calendar is the one that contains the last Thursday and always includes December 28th. This system requires the user to adopt a different way of interpretation, for example: if the calendar is displaying Thursday, September 17th, the ISO calendar will read as day 4 in the day aperture (because Thursday is the fourth day) and W 38 (W for week) on the week dial. It can be switched from ISO mode to traditional calendar year mode. If the annual calendar displays the first day of the year on Thursday, January 1, the calendar will display W1 on the week dial and 1 in the day window (Thursday is the first day of the year).

8. The Vacheron Constantin Armillary Sphere Tourbillion

The mesmerising Armillary tourbillion cage containing the watch’s escapement is visible through the aperture beneath the sky chart. The watchmakers have created an elegant mechanism that displays a three-dimensional constantly rotating sphere moving with the utmost delicacy simultaneously in three directions. This tourbillion was named “armillary” because visually it is reminiscent of the circles and rings of the scientific instrument known as the armillary sphere. The frame of the cage itself, made of ultra-light aluminium and carrying the escapement and balance, is ingeniously constructed to incorporate the Vacheron Constantin company symbol of the Maltese Cross, once every 15-seconds during the tourbillion’s rotation, the Maltese Cross becomes fully visible to the viewer.

The tourbillion is a revolving platform and “cage” upon which the whole escapement is mounted that makes one full rotation in one minute. In this tourbillion, the escapement is rotated in three planes at once. The escapement has two further exceptional features: a spherical balance spring and diamond anchor pallets.


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