By Meor Amri Meor Ayob

Vacheron Constantin is on top of the game. This brand has the pedigree, expertise and unique product offering that no other brand can possible match apart for one or two others. To seal its position and to silence any skeptic, in September 2015, to mark the brand’s 260th birthday, Vacheron Constantin introduced the Reference 57260, the most complicated mechanical watch ever created with 57 complications.

It was reported that it took Vacheron Constantin 8 years to develop the Reference 57260. Although it is easy to accuse the brand of seeking bragging rights by creating such a complicated watch, it can also be said that it is more of an investment in technology.

To ensure the development costs can be recouped, Vacheron Constantin has incorporated two of the complications found on the Reference 57260 to this new offering, the Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon Watch. The armillary tourbillon and the double retrograde indication complications have been incorporated into this new watch.

The most obvious feature used in the Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon is the multiple-axis tourbillion. Called an armillary tourbillion, it is named as such because visually it looks like an armillary sphere, a physical representation of the celestial sphere, the arrangement of the heavenly bodies as seen from Earth, projected onto a sphere surrounding the Earth.  However, unlike the triple-axis tourbillon of the Reference 57260, in this particular model, the tourbillon rotates only on 2-axis. Transplanting a triple-axis tourbillon into this new watch would make it too thick, hence, the decision to de-complicate the design. This tourbillon is made up of two lightweight aluminum alloy carriages, one inside the other. As they rotate, they form a Maltese Cross every 15 seconds. The escape wheel is made of silicon with a diamond-like coating, while the diamond pallet stones have a very low coefficient of friction.

This tourbillon operates as a sphere perpetually rotating on 2-axis under a sapphire crystal dome at the 9 o’clock position. It is also visible from the side of the watch via a sapphire aperture window as well as from the case-back.

The second main feature of the Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon is the double retrograde system for the hours and minutes hands with instant flyback. In the Reference 57260, this was used for the rattrapante chronograph. In this new model, Vacheron Constantin has decided to use the system for the indication of time.

How it works is that both hands travel on a path starting at 12 o’clock and ends at 6 o’clock, allocating measurements for both the 12 hours and the 60 minutes. Once these hands reach the end of the path, the flyback system automatically kicks-in, instantaneously swing the hands back to their original position. The lightweight material titanium in used in this system to ensure the retrograde movement is capable of moving fast. Twice a day, at noon and at midnight, the retrograde action of both hands is synchronized.

This double retrograde mechanism is visible through the dial. It is finished with continuous Geneva stripes, internal and sharp angles, highly polished beveled angles, polished and beveled screws.

Vacheron Constantin has designated this movement as the Calibre 1990. The movement has a modern finish, with bridges and main plate electro-plated with an NAC treatment in a dark anthracite colour, creating a mirror-polished effect. On the dial side, the movement displays its design with sharply cut bridges tempered by a sunburst satin finish and Geneva stripes.

This movement comprises 299 parts and has approximately 65 hours of power reserve. It operates in the 18,000 VpH range.

The Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon is made out of 18k white gold. A large watch, it measures 45.7 mm in diameter with a thickness of 20.6 mm (including the Cyclops eye over the tourbillon). A tall watch due to the space needed to house the tourbillion system. Water rating is 3 ATM.

One interesting fact to note was the use of four patents in the creation of the Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon. The first patent is for the pallet lever. It is a single piece of silicon with slots for the diamond pallet stones that have curved blades inside; these curved blades act as elastic clamps to retain the pallet stones in position and allow them to be adjusted easily. The second patent is for the tourbillon carriage. The third patent is for the titanium collet, a collar that fits over the balance staff and holds the inner end of the balance spring in place. The fourth and final patent is for the double retrograde indication for the hours and minutes.

This watch is a limited edition piece of just one unit. The pricing has not been announced but expect it to be very high due to the materials and the technologies used in the construction.

Honestly, I am disappointed in the production policy of Vacheron Constantin. I do understand the need to have only one Reference 57260 but to have the same one production run for subsequent derivatives (albeit not as complicated) may be counterproductive. As a maker of fine watches, it is important that your watches go to market. By keeping to a very strict “only one” production plan, only one owner will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour. I suggest a fair production of at least 100 units will make it more exciting for fans of the brand. It is a beautifully crafted wristwatch and I don’t see it being a problem to sell. For more info, please visit vacheron-constantin.com

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MEOR AMRI MEOR AYOB – CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Meor Amri is a passionate watch collector from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Having bitten by the horology bug in 2010, he has written extensively about the watch scene and has assembled a large collection of watches (excessively!!!) on his own free time. His blogs on the same subject are: Eastern Watch & Western Watch Read his articles here