THE MOST COMPLICATED WATCH EVER MADE
Reference 57260 is a double-dial horological masterwork of hitherto unimaginablecomplication and technical innovation. It has been conceived over a period of eightyears by a team of three of the company’s Master Watchmakers. Made using theclassic principles of watchmaking along with resolutely 21st century thinking, thiswatch is an entirely original creation exhibiting a total of 57 complications, severalof which are entirely new and unique.
The new complications that were required to be incorporated including, amongst others,the multiple calendars and double retrograde rattrapante chronograph, had neverpreviously existed and therefore had to be calculated, designed and developed fromscratch, thus a completely new calibre of movement was created. This meant thecreation of an entirely new type of movement unlike any other seen before.Furthermore, even the mechanisms of the more familiar complications have beenmodified, reinterpreted and redesigned so that the finished watch is utterly harmoniousas a whole. Its conception and realisation required not only a huge leap of imaginationbut a level of mathematical understanding and craftsmanship that is almost beyondcomprehension. The successful completion of this watch has introduced several important brand-new complications to the world of watchmaking and as such theresearch and skills developed during its construction can be considered to be thegreatest contribution to the advancement of mechanical watchmaking since the 1920s.
Amongst the list of fifty-seven complications are a significant number of ingenious andimportant new mechanisms that have never been seen before in watchmaking. Thesenew Vacheron Constantin innovations are found in every aspect of the watch’sconstruction, within which each function has its application in watchmaking both as anindividual technical development and as an integral part of this extraordinary watch.
Made of solid 18-carat white gold, polished with glazed bezels on each side, the elegantand perfectly proportioned case has a three-position winding crown with correspondingindication window on the case band to show the position of the crown during winding orsetting. A co-axial button in the crown controls the start/stop and return-to-zerofunctions of the double retrograde chronograph and the push-button in the case band at11 o’clock activates and restarts the rattrapante chronograph function.
Of particular note is the totally unobtrusive and new design of the concealed flush-fitalarm winding crown located in the case band at the 4 o’clock position. This is a mostsophisticated method of concealing the alarm button so that it does not detract fromthe clean line and elegance of the case.
Each side of the watch has a dial made of solid silver, while the rotating discs for thedisplays are made of aluminium so as to be lightweight and therefore require only theslightest energy to move. The meantime dial is of regulator style, displaying the hours,minutes and seconds on separate chapter rings, a design derived from precisionregulator clocks such as those used in observatories and laboratories. This first dialdisplays some of the entirely new and very exciting functions developed by the VacheronConstantin watchmakers and seen for the first time ever in this watch.
The Hebraic Perpetual Calendar
Of the utmost technical and mathematical complexity, the Hebraic perpetual calendarcan truly be considered to be one of the greatest contributions to mechanicalwatchmaking of recent times. Due to the long-term changing cycles of the Hebraiccalendar and its difference to the Gregorian calendar, the making of a completefunctioning mechanical Hebraic perpetual calendar in a watch has been impossible untilnow. Highly complicated mathematical calculations combining both the lunar monthsand solar year were transcribed into not only an operational mechanism but a display that is elegant, logical and easy to read. This achievement cannot be overstated as anexample of contemporary watchmaking genius.
The Hebraic perpetual calendar works on the principle of the 19-year Metonic cyclebecause 19 years it is almost exactly a multiple of the solar year and lunar month overthat period. On this watch, the Metonic cycle (also called Golden Number) is displayedas a sector at 3 o’clock concentric with the chronograph hour register. The sacred dateof Yom Kippur indicated in the Gregorian calendar each year, is represented by thecorresponding retrograde hand at 6 o'clock, which returns to its starting point every 19years, at which time the sector is replaced for another for each of the 19 year cycles.
To keep the 12-month lunar year in pace with the solar year, a “13th” leap-month calledan intercalary month has to be added seven times during the 19-year cycle. Ingeniously,this watch not only allows for this addition but also shows the user whether the currentyear is a 12 or 13-month year via an indicator hand and 12/13 display situatedconcentric with the chronograph minute register and counter hand in the 9 o’clock position.
In the Hebrew calendar, there are fixed lunar months of 29 or 30 days alternately. Thoseof Cheshvan and Kislev can have 29 or 30 days, depending on the year. Here, the selfcorrectingdate hand is concentric to the Yom Kippur sector and constant seconds. Oneither side of the date, two windows indicate the number of days and months in Hebrew.
The secular Hebrew calendar, which is displayed in a four-digit window below the YomKippur sector is calculated from the supposed date of the creation of the world in 3760BC. To calculate the present year in the Hebrew calendar 2015 is added to 3760 givingthe year 5775. The Jewish New Year begins again in September 2015 with therefore theHebrew year 5776. Tishrei is the first month of the Hebrew calendar.
Within the centre of the hour chapter-ring are four representations of the moon phasesand also a hand indicating the age of the moon within its 29.5305882 day cycle. TheVacheron Constantin moon phase system requires correction only once every 1027years.
Double Retrograde “Rattrapante” Chronograph
Completely new to the world of watchmaking, the bold and visually dramatic VacheronConstantin retrograde rattrapante chronograph is of a totally innovative design andconstruction. This is the first watch ever to be made with a rattrapante chronograph withdouble 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 classicsplit-seconds chronograph; uniquely however, whilst both hands still work in unison andfrom the same axis, unlike all other split-seconds chronographs, the two hands neveractually meet but operate on two separate scales on opposing sides of the dial. In thisrespect, the new chronograph can perhaps be best described as a “detached” splitsecondschronograph. To create this function, a new chronograph mechanism has beeninvented and made entirely in-house at Vacheron Constantin specifically for thisexceptional watch. In addition, it has been necessary to specially design and make thetwo long and very fine chronograph hands so that the chronograph has perfect stabilityand extreme accuracy during operation. This detail illustrates just one of the myriad ofhighly complex calculations and watchmaking skills required in the design and making ofevery aspect of this watch in which even the smallest of details has been meticulouslydetermined. There are two register dials for the chronograph counting each elapsedminute up to 60-minutes and each elapsed hour up to 12-hours so that events of up to12-hours in duration can be accurately recorded.
The Westminster Chiming, Alarm and Special Night-Silence Feature
Sectors can be seen on the dial to either side of the hour chapter ring, just above thechronograph registers. These sectors with their corresponding hands are indicators forthe selection of the mode of chiming, mode of alarm striking and the alarm powerreserveindicator. These are unsurprisingly highly sophisticated and incorporate new andunique watchmaking inventions and innovations.
This watch offers 3 possible striking modes:
1. Striking - the watch chimes automatically at each passing quarter hour, in the sameway as a clock. With five hammers striking five finely tuned steel gongs, the chimingsequence is that of "Big Ben", the clock of the Palace of Westminster in London.
2. Night silence – chiming automatically disabled from 22h to 8h (described in moredetail below).
3. Silence - chiming switched off when it is not desired.
There are two additional options to choose from; Grande sonnerie - striking the hoursand the quarters at every passing quarter and alternatively Petite sonnerie – striking thefull hours at the hour but only a quarter-strike without hours on the quarters. To repeatthe chiming at any time, the slide on the band of the case can be activated whenever itis desired by the user.
A unique and very user-friendly new feature has been developed especially for thechiming system of this watch, that of the automatically activated “Night-Time Silence”mode. A special system has been developed by Vacheron Constantin and built into thiswatch whereby (in this instance) between the hours of 10pm at night and 8am in themorning it does not chime in order not to disturb its owner. This system is unique inbeing the first to be automatically activated without the need to manually set the chimeor silence option.
In addition to the chiming mechanism, this model houses an integrally connected alarmsystem with separate power-reserve indication. The main feature of this VacheronConstantin mechanism is that it allows a choice between either a traditional alarm on anadditional differently tuned single gong with single hammer or Westminster carillon fullchiming alarm in either Grande or Petite sonnerie mode.The alarm is set via the winding crown which moves an additional alarm hand co-axialwith the hour and moon’s age hand. The flush-fit winding button is situated in the bandof the case.
The Second Dial and Further Functions
As well as the astronomical indications, several unique and major systems developedespecially for this watch are presented here including a 12-hour second time-zonegoverned by a digital world-time display, a double perpetual calendar and a remarkablefully visible armillary sphere tourbillon.
The blue star chart in the upper half of the dial represents the night sky and the starconstellations visible from the user’s home city, with the months appearing around theedge. Concentric around the outer border is the scale for the retrograde date of theperpetual 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 theaperture above the month dial shows the number of the year between 1 and 4 in theleap-year cycle. Around the edge of the dial are three astronomic scales which are readusing the central gold hand identified by its sun counterpoise. The outermost scale is forthe months of the year and their respective number of days, while a concentric scale forthe year divided into Zodiac sign periods additionally indicates the dates of the Vernaland Autumnal Equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. The inter-related fourseasons are displayed on a further inner concentric ring.
The sector above the tourbillion aperture indicates Equation of Time showing thediscrepancy between true solar time and standard meantime which fluctuates during theyear but can be ahead by as much as 16 minutes (around November 3rd) and behind by14 minutes (around February 12th). Solar and meantime are equal on just fouroccasions each year. Flanking the tourbillon aperture are two dual sectors for the timeof 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 whichthe days are calculated from the hours of light and darkness and not strictly set times.
Another watchmaking first is the 12-hour second time zone dial with separate day andnight indicator window located in the 10 o’clock position: the second time zone is usedin conjunction with the digitally displayed world-time function which gives a choice of 24cities and countries and their respective time deviations from Greenwich Meantime. Thisthoroughly new and discreet 12-hour system of world-time mechanism and display isthe first new system to be developed since Louis Cottier’s well-known world-timesystem with 24-hour indication invented about 1935 and is therefore of majorsignificance.
The Dual-Function Perpetual Calendar
The perpetual calendar systems invented and built by the watchmakers of VacheronConstantin are amongst the greatest achievements made during the construction of thiswatch. They represent Vacheron Constantin’s supreme mastery of both highly complexmathematical calculations and the ability of their watchmaking team to translate thecalculations into mechanisms functioning in complete harmony in relation to the myriadother functions. Including the Hebraic perpetual calendar seen on the other dial, thiswatch has the ability to provide three entirely different perpetual calendar readings.The fundamental new departure is that two possible options are available for the readingof the Gregorian perpetual calendar displayed on this dial: either the traditionalGregorian calendar or the business calendar system known as ISO 8601, a numericalsystem which utilises 52 weeks and 7 days.
The Gregorian perpetual calendar which automatically corrects itself for the appropriatenumber of days in the month and the leap-years can be read on the dial using theretrograde date, the days of the week and months dials, with the leap-year windowdisplaying 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 InternationalOrganization for Standardization and used mainly in the international financial sector –for example in company accounting for tax years, payment of wages or rents due on aweekly basis, the planning of projects in weekly cycles, etc. The purpose of this standard is to provide an unambiguous method of representing dates and times, so as toavoid misinterpretation of numeric representations of dates and times, particularly whendata are transferred between countries with different conventions for writing numericdates and times. When times are also required under the ISO system, they are givenusing the 24-hour system and with time-zone information where necessary. Both thesefunctions are also present on this dial.
When the ISO 8601 mode is employed, the number of the week within the year and thenumber of the day within the week takes precedence over the traditional calendarmonth and traditional date, the number of the week is read from the dial concentric tothe month indication and the number of the day within the week is indicated by anumber between 1 (for Monday) and 7 (for Sunday) in a window directly above the weekdial.
The ISO system has a full cycle of 400 years and employs a seven-day cycle with weeksstarting on a Monday. However, an ISO year can have either 52 or in some cases 53 fullweeks when New Year’s Day falls on a Thursday (Wednesday or Thursday in leap-years):this occurs every 5 or 6 years. In the ISO system, week 1 is the one which contains thefirst Thursday of the year and always contains January 4th. The last week of the year inthe ISO calendar is the one that contains the last Thursday and always includesDecember 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 calendarwill read as day 4 in the day aperture (because Thursday is the fourth day) and W 38 (Wfor week) on the week dial.
Another option in the mechanism of this ingenious system is that it can be switchedfrom ISO mode to traditional calendar year mode. A calendar year is the periodbeginning January 1 and ending on December 31. Its programming mode will thereforealso on 1 January of the year put the number of days of the week in synchronization withthe first day of the calendar year. If the annual calendar displays the first day of the yearon Thursday, January 1, the calendar will display W1 on the week dial and 1 in the daywindow (Thursday is the first day of the year).
The Vacheron Constantin Armillary Sphere Tourbillon
The mesmerising Armillary tourbillon cage containing the watch’s escapement is visiblethrough the aperture beneath the sky chart. It is both technically exciting and visuallydramatic. The watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin have created the most supremelyelegant mechanism that displays a three-dimensional constantly rotating sphere movingwith the utmost delicacy simultaneously in three directions. Appropriately, the watchmaker has also chosen to use a spherical balance spring which not only adds tothe elegance of the mechanism, its special properties contribute to the accuracy of the watch.
This tourbillon was named "armillary" because visually it is reminiscent of the circles andrings of the scientific instrument known as the armillary sphere. It was placed in thesecond dial side complementing the astronomical functions to suggest the apparentmovement of the stars, the Sun and the ecliptic around the earth. The frame of the cageitself, made of ultra-light aluminium and carrying the escapement and balance, isingeniously constructed to incorporate the Vacheron Constantin company symbol of theMaltese Cross, once every 15-seconds during the tourbillon’s rotation, the MalteseCross becomes fully visible to the viewer.
The armillary sphere tourbillon is a feat of high-precision watchmaking. Made of thelightest of materials, its purpose is to minimize the effects of gravity on the balancewheel, hairspring and pallet fork of the escapement. The tourbillon is essentially arevolving platform and “cage” upon which the whole escapement is mounted that makesone full rotation in one minute. In this tourbillon, the escapement is rotated in threeplanes at once. The escapement has two further exceptional features: a sphericalbalance spring and diamond anchor pallets.