Inspired by the Reference 57260
On September 17, 2015, Vacheron Constantin unveiled a watch with 57 complications — the most complicated watch ever made. This mechanical wonder, devised by three master watchmakers from the company’s Atelier Cabinotiers workshops, took eight years to develop and was presented to mark Vacheron Constantin’s 260th anniversary. The one-off piece was made to a special commission, using the latest technology to preserve the traditional watchmaking principles certified by the Hallmark of Geneva. The research and skill mobilized to create the superwatch remained a source of inspiration as well as a development resource for its three watchmakers, who were at the same time working to highlight some of its complications separately.
Double retrograde system
The manually wound caliber 1990 movement developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin features retrograde hours and minutes indications with instant flyback. The double indications are as technically fascinating as they are visually mesmerizing. The hands flick back to zero at such a speed that the special attention is needed to ensure a precise indication and such lightweight and resistant materials as the titanium used in the hands.
The lighting reaction of the retrograde hands contrasts with the more stately pace of the armillary tourbillon with a spherical balance spring. The elegantly structured tourbillon operates as a sphere perpetually rotating on two axes under a sapphire crystal dome at 9 o'clock. It’s called an armillary tourbillon because it is based on an armillary sphere like the one incorporated in an astronomic clock made by the French clockmaker, Antide Janvier, in the 18th century. The tourbillon is a visual evocation of the rings and hoops of the ancient model of the celestial sphere. The spherical balance spring, which was first developed by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet in 1814, is particularly rare in today’s watches. The shape ensures the concentric development of the spring and consequently the isochronism of the balance wheel. The tourbillon carriage, made of lightweight aluminum alloy, incorporates Vacheron Constantin’s Maltese Cross emblem, which forms up every 15 seconds as the tourbillon rotates. This ongoing spectacle may be admired every 30 seconds through a sapphire crystal opening on the side of the case.
As fascinating as it is for its action and construction, the armillary tourbillon achieves remarkable timekeeping precision. It is fitted with a new type of escapement, developed and made by Vacheron Constantin that has the escape wheel and lever in silicon with diamond pallet stones for resistance to wear and long life. The escapement, made as lightweight as possible by the use of high-tech materials, contributes significantly to the performance of this watch, which greatly exceeds the requirements of the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC). This level of precision is all the more noteworthy considering the large amount of energy absorbed by the double retrograde indications.
Contemporary styling and finish
Another feature that makes the Maître Cabinotier retrograde armillary tourbillon watch original is the modern styling applied to the architecture and finish of the movement. The caliber 1990 is electro-plated with an NAC treatment in a dark anthracite color creating a mirror-polished effect. On the dial side the movement displays its modern architecture with sharply cut bridges tempered by a sunburst satin finish and Geneva stripes.
The back presents a more conventional look, finished with Geneva stripes making an elegant counterpoint to the contemporary face of this unparalleled watch in the Vacheron Constantin product range. As an additional token of excellence, the painstaking work of chamfering all the edges took more than 130 hours. The indications are shown on two dials that partially cover the baseplate so as to reveal the outlines and contemporary finish of the movement. On the right, the retrograde minutes and hours hands describe a semicircle over a sunburst satin finish punctuated by applied white-gold hour markers and a black minutes scale. Placed symmetrically, the tourbillon carriage carries the seconds pointer around a scale on a silvered disc. The Poinçon de Genève hallmark is exceptionally also engraved on the dial side above the inscription “Armillary Tourbillon” to certify the supreme quality of this timepiece.
Four patents are pending for the caliber 1990 inventive features:
1. The instantaneous retrograde system
The minutes cam alone determines when the hands for the minutes and the hours fly back. The retrograde action of both hands is thus synchronised at noon and at midnight.
2. The collet
The collet fixing the spring to the balance staff is made in lightweight titanium to improve the isochronism of the balance. Titanium’s weight and volume match those of the other materials in the regulating organ, making the collet ideal for use in a tourbillon.
3. The multi-carriage tourbillon
The tourbillion is made up of two carriages, one inside the other. As they rotate they form a Maltese Cross every 15 seconds. The tourbillon has a Vacheron escapement and sprung balance. The escape wheel is made of silicon with a diamond-like coating, while the diamond pallet stones have a very low coefficient of friction.
4. The lever
The silicon lever can be fitted with movable pallet stones so that the watchmaker can adjust them as in a conventional pallet lever. The diamond coating of the lever makes it stronger and more resistant to wear, while the friction between the fork and impulse pin is markedly reduced.