“Today, in the afternoon of 17 September 1755, Master Andrè Hetier, a tailor residing in Geneva, appeared before me and, entirely willingly, entrusted his son Esaie Jean-Francois Hetier, with his consent, to Mister Jean – Marc Vacheron, the watchmaker...” More than 260 years have gone by since the Age of Enlightenment but Vacheron Constantin has never stopped crafting timepieces.
Two years ago, the manufacturer surprised us with a grand and unique pocket-watch of important size, it is the most complicated timepiece ever crafted and is called reference 57260 (57 is the number of complications, while 260 is Vacheron Constantin's age); this year, we managed to take some pictures of this timepiece at the brand's stand during the SIHH. Once again, this year, the Maison has presented us with an another unique piece but, this time, it is a wrist-watch; the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 that is equipped with “only” 23 complications.
The term “Cabinotiers” refers to Vacheron Constantin's specialized atelier, where a specially appointed commission makes sure that clients' dreams and desires are fulfilled and that tailor-made timepieces with simple or exceptional complications (like this one that refers to specific time functions) are crafted in accordance with the values and traditions of the Maison. The case is made of white gold and measures 45mm in diameter and 13,7mm in thickness. Vacheron Constantin's watch-makers have managed to insert, with refinement and elegance, the following elements on an opaline dial that is slate-gray in colour; hours and minutes through white gold applied indices, the indication of the mobile time equation through Breguet-style hands, the details of the perpetual calendar from 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock, equinoxes/solstices, zodiacsigns, sun-set, hours of light, and sun-rise from 4 o'clock to 7 o'clock, precise moon phases, status indication and tides-level indicator from 9 o'clock to 12 o'clock.
I find the latter tides indicator very romantic and particularly fascinating both from an aesthetic and crafting technique perspective. Other brands also featured this same indicator in the past but the tridimensional representation of the earth-sun alignment created by Vacheron Constantin with the tides-level indicator is well above every other timepiece ever crafted before and, for what I can remember, it is something that has never been attempted before either. This phenomenon fascinated Dante, who has talked about it in the Divine Comedy as well as Newton and matemathician George Howard Darwin.
The first one said that, in general, the tides phenomenon is due to the moon's gravitational force that, by not being balanced by the earth's centrifugal force, would cause the phenomenon itself. The second one, on the other hand, would hypothesize that the phenomenon was due to a system of forces, where the central earth and moon would rotate (as a single system) around the sun. Both would ignore any influences due to the sun and the inclination of the earth axis. When there is full moon, the gravitational attraction of both the sun and the moon would add up and result in mean spring tides, that is to say stronger tides than the usual ones, while when the first and the last moon quarters are present, the gravitational force operates in different directions that result in weaker tides also called “quadrature tides”.
The case-back side of this timepiece is even more fascinating and sophisticated than the dial side because it is made up of two sapphire-made discs on top of each other that represent the sky chart theme with the constellations and the Milky Way in the foreground as seen from the northern hemisphere, and the year's months too. On the same transparent disc are also two ellipses (a red one and a white one) that correspond to the projections of the ecliptic and the celestial equator respectively. Below the constellations map, is a second disc that features the four cardinal points and a graduated scale marking the sidereal time, that is to say the astronomic greatness that assesses the moving of the entire firmament in a precise location as seen from a local meridian. It differs by about 4 minutes per day from the average time; 24 sidereal hours correspond to 23hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds.
As if all this wasn't enough already, we can behold the splendid Tourbillon with a big screwed balance wheel mounted on a cross of Malta shaped cage (the historic emblem that has been the brand's logo since 1880) and up to 21 days of power reserve indicated on the outer perimeter. This entire mechanic marvel requested 5 years of Researchand Development that led to the manufacturing of the 3600 calibre. This manual mechanic movement with a Tourbillon running at 18,000 A/h measures 36mm in diameter and only 8,7mm in thickness, it is made up of 514 parts and 64rubies. The calibre controls 23 complications, among which are three separated times that are moved by three single dedicated gearings. The “tropical” complication simulates the tropical year, that is to say the elliptic orbit that the earth completes around the sun, was created to make the solar functions even more precise. Six barrels in a series (two groups of three) guarantee up to three weeks of power reserve.
At first sight it seems not to show any particular finishings but it is actually not the case, since the presence of the “Geneva Seal” includes 12 technical/aesthetic clauses that the manufacturing process must abide by. One can notice, among other features, the Anglage decoration on the bridges with a granulated work, the polishing of both the screws and the Tourbillon's cage, the burring with the chamfer of the screws chamber. I find that this unique piece is quite exceptional from a technical point of view, the design and the complications in use are also outstanding. I wish that part of this mechanic sophistications were used in less complicated and less expensive timepieces too, so that they could give even more class and elegance to other models that have been equipped with complications in dire need of new manufacturing techniques. This type of work is leading to Vacheron Constantin taking over Patek Philippe's leading role when it comes to complications.
(Photo credit: Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting by Entropik)