Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

Say the word complication to a sane man and he will do all not only to avoid it but to stay as far as possible from it. Say the same word to a watch collector and his eyes will become starry, his breathing heavy and find himself in a state of semi shock. Sometimes these two worlds collide and things can get really and I mean REALLY complicated when the collector comes home with a ear to ear grin and his grail tourbillon, minute repeater, perpetual calendar strapped proudly on his wrist and his better half – in her habitual bad faith and lack of appreciation for the finer things in life - fails to understand why the kids’ college funds were just spent on a watch.

But since we’re amongst WIS lets have a closer look at Vacheron Constantin’s 10 most complicated watches (and one unique clock) some of which have become milestones in the history of watchmaking.


The first question is what exactly is a complication? According to the Berner Dictionary of Horology a complicated watch is “Composed of a large number of parts: chronograph and repeaters are complicated watches”. Hmm interesting but as my lawyer would say “you need to define a large number”. A look at Wikipedia and we find that “In horology, the term complication refers to any feature beyond the simple display of hours, minutes, and seconds in a timepiece.” This sounds more like it and is the definition more commonly accepted however it excludes certain movements which indicate only the time but which require extreme dexterity, know how and expertise to make such as tourbillons, dead seconds or dual escapements (à la Dufour Duality). However for the sake of simplicity (maybe not the choice of the perfect word in an article on complications) let’s stick to the common definition, ie: anything more than the indication of time, and include the tourbillon which is accepted by the WIS community as being a complication.

The first known complicated piece from the brand (movement signed Vacheron à Geneve) dates back to 1790 in the form of a Maltese cross shaped wall clock indicating the day of the week and date with a beautifully engraved dial followed rapidly in 1810 by the first minute repeating pocket watches and triple calendar pocket watches (1824) not to forget a gorgeous double faced perpetual calendar from 1884 or a superb perpetual calendar with equation of time as well as time of sunrise and sunset from 1913. 

click on photos for a larger view

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
dial side: time only back dial: perpetual calendar

 

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 





I - POCKET WATCHES


5) 7 Complications - 1905

Split seconds chronograph
Minute repeater
Day
Date
Month
Perpetual calendar
Moonphase

In the late 19th century Vacheron had already started making multi complication watches with repeaters added to perpetual calendars or chronographs but the brand’s fifth most complicated watch dates from 1905 with a watch featuring a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar (48 month indication as opposed to a 12 month indication with a leap year indicator) and a split seconds chronograph (considered to be the most complex complication after chiming watches). In 1901 the brand had made a similar watch but with a simple chronograph. Pieces like this one were made upon request and as unique pieces, each with a different aesthetic feature. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 





4) 9 complications - 1932
Split seconds chronograph
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual calendar
Moonphase
Tourbillon
Power reserve indicator


Made in 1932 this piece is the only multi complication pocket watch by Vacheron Constantin featuring a tourbillon. Its regulation was entrusted to Edmond Olivier who was not only a master watchmaker but a true artist in regulation of movements sent for Observatory trials. One of the particularities of this piece results from the fact that watch’s accuracy is not adversely affected when the chronograph is functionning. In 1934 it obtained 1st prize at the Geneva Observatory trials and in 1939 it was presented at the National Swiss Exhibition in Zurich. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



3) 9 complications - 1928
Minute repeater carillon (3 hammers)
Split seconds chronograph
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual calendar
Moon phase
Alarm


Started in 1914 and finished fourteen years later in 1928 and sold in 1948 to the Count Guy de Boisrouvray cousin to Monaco’s Prince Rainier III. It is believed that the watch remained within the family until its sale in 2003 for an impressive CHF 1,103,500. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
image courtesy of Antiquorum

 




This watch is not only impressive due to its 657 components and 11 hands but due to the fact that it is one of only two highly complicated Vacheron Constantin’s to feature an alarm (the other being the Fouad – see number 1 below) and one of only 4 pocket watches made by the brand to feature an alarm.

The second interesting element in this 66 mm watch is the detail given to the escapement. It has a Guillaume balance (using an alloy exhibiting unusual properties in terms of thermal expansion and changes in elasticity) with gold and platinum micro screws and an unusual and rare regulation system. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


Vacheron Constantin was so proud of this watch that it chose it to be on the cover of the World of Vacheron Constantin book (1992). 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



I’ve heard from the grapevine that this watch is owned by the same collector who owns the Farouk!


2) Fouad – 10 complications - 1929

Minute repeater carillon (3 hammers)
Grande Sonnerie
Petite Sonnerie
Split Seconds Chronograph
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual Calendar
Moonphase

Private collection

It was in 1927 that Francis Peter, the president of the Cairo Joint Tribunal and a Swiss citizen visited Vacheron Constantin’s ateliers on the Quai de l’Ile in Geneva. He had been appointed by the Swiss community of Egypt to find a gift to be presented to King Fouad 1st of Egypt ,-a known collector of watches - a passion he shared with his wife and would pass on to his son King Farouk.

Vacheron Constantin had already started working on an exceptional piece with an array of complications and 8 hands, which once completed would be the most complicated watch ever created by the brand. Mr. Peter chose this movement which was to be cased in a yellow gold case and have its back decorated with the royal coat of arms and bordered with diamonds. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



In October 1929 the watch was presented to Francis Peter who requested that the days and month indicators be changed from English to French as this was the language the French speaking and Francophile king would undoubtedly prefer. A month later in November 1929 the watch was presented to King Fouad in a sandalwood box decorated with the royal crown and the king’s monogram in Arabic. Inside the box was the date: 1929 inlaid in gold and flanked by the Swiss escutchon and the royal coat of arms painted on enamel. The inside of the cuvette had the following words engraved on it: A Sa Majesté Fouad 1er Hommage de la Colonie Suisse d’Egypte which translates as To His Majesty Fouad 1st Tribute from the Swiss Colony of Egypte (colony as in community).
 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


It sold to a private collector for an astronomical CHF 3,306,250 in April 2005 at the Vacheron Constantin Quarter Millennium Antiquorum auction.


1) Farouk - 12 complications - 1934

Minute repeater
Grande Sonnerie
Petite Sonnerie
Split Seconds Chronograph
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual Calendar
Moonphase
Alarm
Power reserve for going train and sonnerie


During a trip to Geneva in 1937 King Farouk of Egypt insisted on visiting the Vacheron Constantin manufactory, Charles Constantin acting as his guide on the tour confessed his surprise at the breadth of the young (17 at the time) prince's knowledge of watchmaking. "But Monsieur Constantin" he replied "I dismantled so many watches when I was a child...unfortunately for them...!" Thank goodness that he did not dismantle the outstanding watch presented to him by the Genevan authorities during an official visit in 1935 (that makes him 15 at the time!!!!!!!!!)

This 80mm behemoth, which took over 6 years to manufacture, features 13 hands and the calibre has no less than 820 components. It was manufactured between 1930 and 1935 and purchased by Boulent Raoul to be presented to King Farouk of Egypt. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


Even though it was presented to him as a gift, he ordered that the month indication should be changed to French from the original English, since it was so on his fathers watch!

This watch remained in King Farouk's collection until 1954 when it was sold in the Cairo sale of the Palace Collection, it reappeared at auction in 1994 at the Antiquorum VC thematic auction (selling for an astounding CHF 1,155,000) and has ever since remained in a private collection. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The Farouk was until the launch of the Tour de l’Ile in 2005 the most complicated watch created by Vacheron Constantin and one of the all time most complicated pocket watches ever made. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 




II - Wrist Watches

One of Vacheron Constantin’s first multicomplication wrist watches was the ref 3620 from 1936. Made for a client in Spain this unique gold tonneau shaped watch features the day of the week, the date via a retrograde hand and a minute repeater. The dial has the originality of having the numerals in blue rather than the habitual black. It is believed that this is the first wrist watch to feature a retrograde hand (something which became a trend in the watchmaking industry 60 years later!). 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



Up until the rebirth of the mechanical watch in the late 80s Vacheron Constantin did not try itself in multi-complication wrist watches, one exception being the gorgeous and unusually large (for the time) 38mm ref 4293 minute repeater and triple date/moonphase in rose gold made in 1943 and sold in 1957. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



5) Ref 30020 (ref 30040) – 6 complications – 1992 (2006)
Minute repeater
Day
Date
Month
Perpetual Calendar
Moonphase

The late 80s saw the revival of the mechanical watch after the quartz crisis who almost sealed the fate of the Swiss watch industry, brands were starting to recover and Vacheron Constantin came limping our of the quartz crisis decided to regain the summits and to do so by adding one of the most complex complications to its collection: the minute repeater.

In 1998/1999 the brand started working on this gargantuan project, assigned to two men: Marcel Goy, Vacheron Constantin’s then Technical Director and Gerald Dubois, of Dubois-Depraz, the movement manufacturer. The goal was to recreate a mythical movement in line with the amazing extra flat repeater movement the brand had used in the 40s.

One must understand the challenge that this task posed, not only the original plans and drawings of that calibre were no longer available and due to the quartz crisis the industry was lacking a whole generation of watch makers, constructors, engineers etc… possessing the know how and capable of working on such projects. Vacheron Constantin had to start from zero and it was a trial and error process by taking apart a vintage movement, studying it and trying to rebuild it.

One of the main difficulties, other than keeping the calibre thin, was building the perfect gongs capable of rendering not only a loud strike but also a pure and crisp chime. Legend doesn’t say if the gongs were dipped in horse urine as was done in the 18th century to harden them but in any event the magic formula was found.

Vacheron Constantin also experimented other ways in obtaining the best acoustics and this path took the brand to adapting the cases individually to each movement making the two inseparable (a movement could have a phenomenal chime in a case it was adapted for and a so-so chime in another).

In 1992 the calibre 1755 was introduced in two versions: simple and with a perpetual calendar in yellow gold platinum. The 3.28 mm repeater movement now measuring 4.9 mm with the extra perpetual calendar module. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



In a 36mm case it was a tribute to the fantastically beautiful tear drop lug repeaters it had gotten its inspiration from, the perpetual calendar was also very traditional in its implementation and inspired from the pocket watches of the 19th century where the months are given on a 4 year period without an extra hand for the leap year. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


In 2006 Cal 1755QP (as for Quantième Perpetuel – perpetual calendar in French) was used in the now defunct round shaped Malte (41mm case) in rose gold giving it a more modern and masculine look. In 2010 the last 8 Cal 1755QPs were cased in a round Malte case but this time in platinum. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


Cal 1755 is a milestone for Vacheron Constantin, the brand was back and wanted the world to know, it proved that it was ready to face challenges no matter how difficult and created a mythical movement.


4) Saint Gervais – 7 complications - 2005

Tourbillon
Day
Date
Month
Leap year
Perpetual Calendar
Power reserve indicator

In my opinion the Saint Gervais is one of the coolest watches Vacheron Constantin has ever made. It merges technical know how with bold design elements. Made in only 55 platinum pieces in a 44mm case (including a unique model with black dial sold at the Quarter Millennium auction held by Antiquorum in 2005) for the brand’s 250th anniversary the Saint Gervais owes its name to the Cabinotiers established in the historical Saint-Gervais district, the cradle of grand traditional Geneva watchmaking, close to the brand’s historical headquarters located on the Quai de l’Ile. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
Unique piece made for the 2005 Antiquorum auction

 



Housing the fully developed inhouse calibre 2250 (450 parts), the Saint Gervais, other than a tourbillon and perpetual calendar, features an incredible 250 hour power reserve visible on the dial by double 125-hour segment indications, each winding down in turn. This may not seem impressive today but five years ago in 2005 very few brands were reaching such long power reserves and it was the only watch at the time with a perpetual calendar and tourbillon to have such a long power reserve. This extra long power reserve is obtained via 4 coupled barrels (2+2). In fact cal 2250 has a power reserve of over 270 hours but has a stop system at 250 (the brand’s age at the time) to avoid any loss in amplitude and accuracy. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The designers at one point had wanted to make the case in 100% platinum (platinum used in watch cases contains 95% platinum and 5% of either iridium or ruthenium) but as Christian Selmoni Head of Product Development at Vacheron Constantin says “the 100% platinum case was like butter, almost impossible to mill and too soft”. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The Saint Gervais, even if technically over shadowed by the Tour de l’Ile’s 15 complications remains for me an incredibly strong and enigmatic watch. Where the other 250th anniversary watches were a homage to the brand’s traditional crafts and expertise the Saint Gervais was a taste of things to come with more daring and ambitious designs. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

click here to see the Saint Gervais film

3) Patrimony Traditionnelle Cal 2253 – 10 complications - 2010

Tourbillon
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual Calendar
Time of sunrise
Time of sunset
Equation of Time
Power reserve indicator


A direct descendant of the Cal 2250 used in the Saint Gervais the calibre 2253 (457 components launched in 2010 in the Patrimony Traditionnelle case (44mm) in the Excellence Platine collection (case, buckle, gorgeous sand blasted dial all in platinum not to mention the stitching of the strap!) pushes the boundaries of power reserve with a 2 week power reserve (the indicator is on the back plate) via 4 barrels coupled 2+2. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The Cal 2253 is to the best of my knowledge the only wrist watch with these functions. The equation of time (difference between the civil time - 24 hours - and true solar time with a variation of +16min to -16 min per day due to the earth’s elliptical orbit) indicator is discretely placed between 10 and 11 with the times of sunrise and sunset indicated via retrograde hands placed respectively on the bottom left and bottom right side of the dial. The equation of time indication and times of sunrise and sunset can be individualised for each owner to the time of his desired location. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


My main issue with this watch is the finish of the tourbillon cage, which looks somewhat “flatter” than what habitually exists in Vacheron Constantin tourbillons. According to Christian Selmoni this was done to give a more modern look to the tourbillon but needless to say that I preferred much more the curves of the mode traditional finish. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The model in the Excellence Platine collection is limited to 10 pieces but this model will also be launched in a non limited gold case, but less than 10 will be produced each year. 

click here to see the Cal 2253 film

2) Patrimony Traditionnelle Cal 2755 – 8 complications - 2007

Tourbillon
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual calendar
Minute repeater
Power reserve indicator


Even if the Cal 2755 has fewer complications than the cal 2253 (8 as opposed to 10), an equation of time with sunset/sunrise as complicated to make, is still one notch under the extreme dexterity and complexity needed in making a minute repeater that is why I placed the cal 2755 as number two and not as number three. However if we take Berner’s definition of number of components Cal 2755 with 602 components is ahead of Cal 2253 with its 457!

Presented in 2007 the Patrimony Traditionnelle Caliber 2755 (how’s that as a dry name for such an amazing watch?) is currently Vacheron Constantins most complicated timepiece. However it’s just not “just” a perpetual calendar, tourbillon minute repeater but the greatest sounding repeater I have ever heard thanks to a centripetal speed-regulator in the striking-mechanism, an original device which eliminates the noise interference normally experienced with pallet systems (the bzzz often heard when the repeating mechanism is activated) 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
  centripetal regulator (bottom of the picture)

 


As with the ref 30020 and 30040 the case has been carefully designed and manufactured to give the minute repeater a remarkable resonance, which is optimised by the ingenious use of a stud linking the case to the striking mechanism. And, thanks to its high copper content, which gives it its colour, the pink gold case adds to the quality of resonance. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


A special version was also made in 2009 for Parisian retailer Dubail with a scrumptious chocolate brown dial. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


In 2010 the Cal 2755 was also launched in platinum with an opaline and a slate grey dial, the later having an even more contemporary look. Normally platinum is a metal which “absorbs” the chimes but the watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin have done a fantastic job and the chimes are almost as loud and pure as in the rose gold version. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



I have to admit that the Cal 2755 has the most amazing chime I have ever come across (a close second being the Patek Sky Moon tourbillon), the first time I heard it, it was in a room with people talking and music in the background and still the chimes could be perfectly heard. If I had the funds this watch would have already been on my wrist Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

The Cal 2755 for me is a condensed representation of what Vacheron Constantin is: a beautiful design which is classical yet with a twist, perfect proportions, technical mastery and drop dead amazing movement finish. Techniques have not been sacrificed for design and there is no compromise in the design for the sake of techniques. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The cal 2755 is assembled from A to Z by the same watchmaker who also tunes the gongs (by filing away on the base of the gongs) to achieve the perfect chime. As Chrystian Lefrançois, master watchmaker at Vacheron Constantin says “achieving the perfect chime is extremely difficult as you need to adjust the gong by filing the metal and at one point you know that you have reached the best possible sound and one file to much and you go from the best chime to the dull sound of a spoon hitting a pot!”

About less than one Patrimony Traditionnelle Cal 2755 come out of the ateliers of Vacheron Constantin per month, considering that it can take 3-4 months to fine tune and assemble. 

click here to see the Cal 2755 film


1) Tour de l’Ile – 16 complications - 2005

Tourbillon
Minute repeater
Power reserve indicator
Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual calendar
Moonphase
2nd time zone
Sonnerie level indication
Equation of time
Sunrise
Sunset
Celestial chart
Sidereal time

The celebration of the brand’s 250th anniversary in 2005 was a strategic event in terms of products and communication and starting 1999 a team in charge of conception and development of special commemorative timepieces was set up.

To celebrate this exceptional anniversary the Vacheron Constantin team worked on the conception of a commemorative collection of 5 creations all referring in a way or another to the brand’s historical patrimony. These timepieces were to showcase 250 years of know how, technical mastery and creativity.

Made in 7 pieces between 2005 and 2007, a special unique black dial version was sold by Antiquorum at the VC 250th anniversary auction on April 3 2005 for CHF 1,876,250 making it the most expensive modern wrist watch to be auctioned! 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
unique piece auctioned by Antiquorum

 



Creating a timepiece with indications on both sides of the case was no easy feat, especially since the team wanted to maintain legibility and wearability.It took 4 years (2000-2004) for the constructors at VC to develop calibre 2750 (834 parts) requesting over 10,000 hours of R&D.

How do you create a super complicated watch that can remain elegant, refined and which can be worn comfortably on the wrist? This was the first obstacle the case designers confronted.

The creative process started on 2 axes, the first directly via CAD in 3D as to be able to assess as soon as possible an evaluation of the minimal dimensions of the case keeping in mind the size of the movement: 36mm x 11.25mm. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



The second axis was sketches and drawings, especially everything that was related to the lugs and their particular shape. The lugs were then integrated into the 3D design.

The fact that the movement was 36mm in diameter was not an issue. However the 11.25mm thickness and the fact that the watch was to have indications on both sides almost made Vincent Kaufmann, the head designer, to pull out his last remaining hairs in frustration.

The first satisfying volume of the case in terms of equilibrium would have been largely over 50mm, and this is without counting the lugs! But this was impossible as the objective was to have a wearable watch. The team created different models using stereo lithography to finally reach a compromise considered as optimal: 47mm diameter and 17.8mm thickness.

This type of size can be found in modern watches which are either targeting the sports watch segment or those wanting to make a spectacular impression. For the Tour de l’Ile, Vacheron Constantin was to create a classical watch which – as much as possible – was to remain discreet!!!! 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
movement seen from back side

 


To reduce the impression of thickness, the designers came up with a curved case as to prevent the “tuna can” effect. The case is also divided in three distinctive parts: the knurled bezel and case back plus the main centrepiece.

The second difficulty was the implementation and form of the lugs. To have equilibrium they needed to occupy the major part of the case side without having straight lines which would have given an impression of weight. Soldered to the case and representing 1/4th of a Maltese cross and being both concave with ingoing angles they were particularly difficult to make and could only be hand finished.

Thanks to its construction which integrates all elements –movement and case – the watch does not look like a cake with different stacked layers. It is comfortable to wear and its proportions are harmonious. The Tour de l’Ile was the first watch from the anniversary pieces to be designed and all the others were directly inspired from it and integrated its aesthetic codes. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



Other than the case construction another challenge had to be met: placing 7 corrector pushers, a crown as well as the repeater slide! The classical position on the case side was impossible due to the correctors. That’s why it was decided on placing the repeater slide on the bezel which needs to be turned to activate the repeater.

The WIS is often fascinated by the technological prowess of grand complication; the dial is a natural prolongation of this as well as being the “face” of the watch.

In the Tour de l’Ile 12 hands indicate the majority of the functions. The aesthetics needed to make these indications legible and uncluttered.

The top dial features the hours and minutes, the tourbillon cage, the power reserve indicator, the 2nd time zone, and the sonnerie indicator as well as the moonphase. The back dial features the calendar functions, the sun rise / sun set indications as well as the equation of time. 6 hands are necessary for these indications. The celestial chart representing the Northern Hemisphere is placed on the bottom part of the dial. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



One of the first objectives of the team in charge of the dial was to create a sober aesthetics especially with regards to the tints and varnish used. Only 2 colors are present on the dial: silver of the dial and blue underlining the different complications. The hands are also blued steal. The time telling hands are in pink gold like the case.

In parallel to the creation of the final dials, the team created “replacement” dials as to test the functions which were complicated to adjust due to the little space available on the dial, especially the indications relating to the equation of time as well as sunset and sunrise. As such each Tour de l’Ile could be assembled, tested, dis-assembled and re-assembled with the final dials. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
replacement dial on front replacement dial on back - note the opening for the celestial chart

 



The guillocheur responsible for each dial actually refused to show the dials to VC before delivery and the creative team did have a stressful moment there! The interesting point is that each dial on the back of the Tour de l’Ile has a different guilloche motif. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The sky chart representing the sky as seen from the Northern Hemisphere featured on the back dial was added far down the movement development and was included...6 months before the unveiling of the watch!! 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


Initially, the tourbillon was to be visible from the back, however considering the thickness of the movement and the additional mechanisms the aesthetics were not satisfying. The engineers and constructors submitted the idea of filling the “hole” with a sky chart and they managed in a few weeks – in collaboration with the Geneva Observatory – to create this new complication. 



III – Clocks


The Esprit des Cabinotiers - 12 complications - 2005

Day
Date
Month
Leap year indicator
Perpetual calendar
Moonphase
Equation of time
2nd time zone
Sonnerie en passant
Thermometer
Signs of the zodiac
Power reserve indicator

This article would not have been complete without at least a mention of the unique Esprit des Cabinotiers clock cum android made in 2005 for the brand’s 250th anniversary and sold at the Antiquorum auction for a stunning CHF 2,206,250! 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



When rumors started going around on what Vacheron would be presenting for its quarter millennium anniversary surprisingly they related less to a wrist watch but to a one of a kind clock that would be breathtaking. However it was impossible to learn more as this seemed to be the best kept secret after the formula for turning steel to gold!

The question was how might Vacheron Constantin unite its quintessential values within a unique and supreme object that would represent the ultimate expression of its 250 years of know-how?

The team at Vacheron Constantin wanted to create something unique, creative and completely out of the box.

The answer given to this question by Vacheron Constantin is called L’Esprit des Cabinotiers. Its name, referring to the Geneva watchmaker-craftsmen who used to work under the rooftops. eloquently embodies an approach focused on the quest for technical and aesthetic perfection.

This awe striking masterpiece consists of a golden sphere engraved by hand according to the sky chart drawn by Didier Robert de Vaugondy (1723-1786), geographer to King Louis XV of France and author of two large globes, one celestial and the other terrestrial. The sphere is composed of eight petals symbolising the lotus flower and which opens progressively means of an extremely sophisticated spring mechanism. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



The idea of a globe opening to reveal the mechanical insides came to the team after visiting a fantastic exhibition which had taken in place at the Kugel gallery in Paris in 2002 on the Art of Celestial Mechanics (scientific instruments and clocks). 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The engraver of the sphere was found in France and is one of the last artisans capable of doing such work. He isolated himself in his workshops for over 4 months refusing to take calls from the brand and accepting any visits, finally delivering his work (to Vacheron’s great relief) a few days prior to the presentation of the clock to the press! He even lined the floor of his workshops with cushions just in case the pieces he was working on would fall on the floor (the sphere itself weighing 3.5kgs of gold)!! 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The creation of the “engine” of the globe was entrusted to François Junod who is certainly the world’s most talented android and automaton maker. To set the globe in motion one needs to press a hidden button at the base of the clock, the pink gold sphere slowly opens up like a flower, and unfolds its eight petals, while a central telescopic cylinder raises up the timepiece nestling at its heart via sixteen small connecting rods, tiny sapphire balls and articulations. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


One of the difficulties was to find the correct power and torque as for the petals to neither open too slowly or too rapidly. However, this open/closing motion does use a lot of energy and after every 2 utilisations the spring needs to be rewound.

The overall effect is ethereal, mysterious and poetic. The transparency of the glare proofed sapphire crystal provides ideal visual access, from the front as well as from the sides. The gold and steel structure discreetly houses the function correctors, while two tiny holes drilled through the sapphire crystal on the back of the clock serve to wind the mechanism by means of a key concealed within the base. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The making of such a big circular sapphire crystal was in itself quite a feat and special tools needed to be created and research and development was undertaken. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


For the anecdote, the movement ebauche of this masterpiece dates from 1934.

Once the petals have unfolded, the eye is attracted to the harmony of the beautifully guilloche dial which has a 10 cm diameter with the same motif as the other 250th anniversary creations. It took the guillocheur over 4 days to finish the hand engine turning of the dial. To give you a feeling of how important the surface is, once the centre of the dial was finished the engine turning tool needed to be replaced and as the guillocheur states it’s the first time he had encountered this in 50 years of practice! 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 


The Esprit des Cabinotiers other than the traditional hours and minutes features a central dead seconds hand and displays a second time-zone on a small central subdial, topped by four horizontal apertures in a harmonious in-line perpetual calendar, hour and quarter repeater function on request and the power reserve appears in a counter at noon. 

 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces

 



But that’s not it!

All these indications are framed by the hand-engraved minute circle, itself surrounded by a circular zone that is perhaps the most poetic feature of all: an astronomical calendar depicting the position of the sun in each zodiac according to the Gregorian calendar. The twelve signs of the zodiac are superbly enamelled using the exquisitely grand feu enamel painting method. 

 

Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces



I had come across a rumor saying that the first time the Esprit des Cabinotiers was presented the enamel zodiac sign circle was…not in enamel!! The enameller not being 100% satisfied with the results had taken more time than planned and had not finished on time, therefore what was supposed to be painted enamel was nothing more than a high resolution photocopy of what the final results should have looked like. This subterfuge going un noticed and the cardboard photocopies rapidly replaced by the planned enamel drawings.

Even under torture and immense psychological pressure the only answer I got from Christian Selmoni was a wry smile… the mystery remains

click here to see the Esprit des Cabinotiers film



                                                                    *****************************


Multi complications are complicated (please forgive me for the poor pun) but it is not an easy task to create a watch with multi complications and still maintain legibility and coherence among the functions not to mention beauty. Some watches have so many complications that they could either make you an espresso (as well as give the week’s weather forecast) or knock you stone dead with horological indigestion.

We live in an era of more, the one who builds the highest tower, the biggest ship, the longest pizza or the watch with the most complications. Some like adding complications one atop another - others, and that’s the category I put Vacheron Constantin in, build harmonious and beautifully thought out, constructed and built multi complications where there’s no race to have the most but the best and that’s what makes Vacheron Constantin such a great brand.

07/19/2010 - 12:00
Edu
07/16/2010 - 23:51
07/19/2010 - 12:26
07/19/2010 - 13:30
07/19/2010 - 14:23
07/21/2010 - 01:52
07/21/2010 - 01:58
07/21/2010 - 01:59
WHL
07/22/2010 - 06:17
07/23/2010 - 11:28
07/23/2010 - 13:58
07/24/2010 - 02:49
07/25/2010 - 01:31
I'm impressed by VC's display of know how in complications! Thanks
07/16/2010 - 16:12
.
thank you
07/19/2010 - 12:00
e
Impressive post and scans ...
07/16/2010 - 16:48
... thank you Alex! And I am totally agree with you, all VC complicated timepieces are both legible and coherent! Hope one day I could watch The Esprit des Cabioniters working!
I wish Vc would have bought the Esprit des Cabinotiers for their
07/19/2010 - 12:01
museum so all could admire it.
Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!
07/16/2010 - 18:22
Beautiful job, Alex Another absolutely wonderful feature and another chapter in THL's "book of Vacheron Constantin".  I always find it very inspiring to read these articles and feel more appreciative of Vacheron (&) Constantin DNA afterwards!  Thank-you for showing my personal favorite...the ref. 4293.
Dean, I think you now have your screen saver! Amazing article and mind
07/19/2010 - 06:17
bending photographs. I think the opening scan could be used as the first shot in a Lucas Films movie! Many thanks to Alex for this incredible body of work. Best to all, Tim
merci Tim (nt)
07/19/2010 - 12:13
e
surprising no one had heard of the 4293 until 2 years ago!!!!
07/19/2010 - 12:12
z
I have to admit, the ref. 4293 is my favorite as well
07/19/2010 - 15:49
Hi Dean and Alex, This is definitely the first time I remember seeing a ref. 4293.  It is defnitely a grail watch . Such a practical triple date complication on the dial, and minute repeater to sooth the soul! BR, Dan
Chronograph complications
07/16/2010 - 23:51

A great read - thanks, Alex. Lots of watches I didn't know about, as my knowledge of VC watches is fairly recent. Very hard to pick a favourite but I was really impressed by the split-second chrono pocket watches - beautiful movements. This got me wondering - why are chronographs much cheaper than most other complications? They're tough to make (ask VC's current R+D department) and, as it says in your post Alex, the split seconds chronograph is the 2nd most complicated complication. Yet they're priced well below repeaters, tourbillons, perpetuals etc.  Anyone know why?

the difficulty in pricing complications is that you need to take
07/19/2010 - 12:17

into account the market perception, the work that goes into it, what the market can bear as a price and how much you can make. The market is bigger for a chronograph so even if it is more complicated than a perpetual module the prices are maintained lower by volume. A tourbillon is just an escapement but the amount of manual work that goes in the finish drives the price up.

Very impressive work throughout the ages. Thanks Alex. [nt]
07/17/2010 - 09:42
nt
thank you SJX and good to see you here (nt)
07/19/2010 - 12:18
e
Great Thanks! So nice Timepieces!!
07/17/2010 - 10:28
Extreamly nice! Great plasure to see them!
thank you Alexander (nt)
07/19/2010 - 12:20
e
Amazing post, Alex! A big thank you for the outstanding report...
07/17/2010 - 11:53
and Vacheron Consantin for the most wonderful complicated creations in the world(of haute horologerie) Wonder if bespoke complicated watches are for show arounds here. An idea for another breathtaking post?! Cheers Radek PS. If I could just wear that Saint Gervais for a weekend
there are some outstanding bespoke pieces in the pipeline and even
07/19/2010 - 12:22
more outstanding complications in the VC line up, maybe not as many complications as in the Tour de l'Ile but some very surprising implementations
Superb, Alex! As comphrehensive as ever...merci. (nt)
07/17/2010 - 18:29
e
glad you enjoyed it Rei (nt)
07/19/2010 - 12:23
e
Re: Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
07/17/2010 - 19:14
Dear Alex, Congratulations. This topic is one of the best shown in this forum ever. No one may question both the strong capacity and ability of VC´s watchmakers to produce such masterpieces. VC is a real manufacture. It not only preserves the finest old Swiss tradition of making ultra-complicated mechanical watches, but also provoke a permanent admiration and respect from us.
well said Fandejo VC's mastery is impressive but unfortunately not
07/19/2010 - 12:25
recognized as it should
Re: well said Fandejo VC's mastery is impressive but unfortunately not
07/25/2010 - 01:21
Alex, I agree 100% with you in the short term, due to the fierce competition from other brands. However, it is very likely that Swatch Group as from Jan 01, 2011 will no longer sell ebauches and mechanical movements to third parts (établisseurs and other opportunistic players), except for brands with some expertise and tradition. I believe such decision will have a positive impact in the Swiss watch industry in the medium to the long term, mostly for real top brands like VC.
"No race to have the most but the best"
07/18/2010 - 16:13
PRIDE OF PLACE The integrity and philosophy of VC is superbly reflected in this first-class presentation. Thank you Alex. Tony
thank you Tony (nt)
07/19/2010 - 12:26
e
thanks for the eye and info feast. very impressive and beautiful....
07/19/2010 - 05:12

watches. the patrimony cases, surprisingly, is catching on me more than the classic tear drop cases from your post. 

I really like the Patrimony Traditionnelle case as well, very
07/19/2010 - 12:27
contemporary
Re: Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
07/19/2010 - 05:56
Alex, many thanks for sharing such great history along with a gold medal lineup of Vacheron watches that makes me want to see more:)). Appreciate your informative post with awesome photos here. Best regards, Matt
glad you enjoyed the read Matt (nt)
07/19/2010 - 12:29
e
Re: Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
07/19/2010 - 11:51
Thanks for sharing Very Important Information, thanks again.
thank you and thank you for your 1st post, looking forward in
07/19/2010 - 12:30
reading your future posts
Fantastic post again
07/19/2010 - 13:30
These Grande Complications are true masterpiece, a lot of patience, competence and focus is needed to achieve such results. It gives Vacheron a true legitimacy in the world of "haute horlogerie". Very very few can tell the same. These Grandes Complications are one part of the brand but I personnaly associate Vacheron more with thin pieces and style than a mountain of complications. I find them more typical of Vacheron. The most impressive for me is the thin perpetual minute repeater. Making such a marvel so wearable for everyday is the ultimate performance imho, and with an incredible style. This is pure genetic of VC
thank you Cisco, I think that VC has many faces may it be QDI, thin or
07/21/2010 - 01:51
these complications which each have the VC toutch
Beautifull!
07/19/2010 - 14:23
Thank you Alex
Thank you Carlos
07/21/2010 - 01:52
.
its time VC was known for something else other than extra flat not
07/19/2010 - 18:06
that extra flat watches aren't worthy, on the contrary but there is so much more to VC than the cal 1003!
I agree, see my reply to Cisco above
07/21/2010 - 01:53
.
A true gem of an article Alex, and another great source of ref. mat'l!
07/19/2010 - 18:19
Its great to see such varied complications and how integral they have been in VC's history and DNA!  Best Regards, Dan
thank you Dan and stay tuned for some more eye popping pieces coming
07/21/2010 - 01:54
soon
Spectacular report Alex, thank you so much!! (nt)
07/19/2010 - 18:47
vc
glad you enjoyed the read Mike
07/21/2010 - 01:55
e
Re: Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
07/20/2010 - 03:05
A Fantastic article, Alex, Congrats! So many wonderful creations altogether...it should be published as a monograph. Thank you so much. The Esprit des Cabinotiers is magnificent. I hadn't realized that the clock actually rose up as the leaves opened...brilliant idea. The face on the moon looks like Angelina Jolie Regards, Joseph
LOL Joseph, I'll never look at a Vc moon face the same way :-)
07/21/2010 - 01:57
.
The best in the world at what they do!
07/20/2010 - 13:42
I have no doubt about it! From grand complications to "simple" two-handed watches they keep a very high standard. Thank you Alex for the write up, always a great read with lots of information for us nuts who can't get enough of it. 
Tak Martin :-)
07/21/2010 - 01:58
z
Thanks for this superb review Alex (nt)
07/20/2010 - 15:13
.
merci Lin
07/21/2010 - 01:59
e
Since no one else did Luca has to ask:
07/22/2010 - 00:45
Do we know anyone that not only ownes one of these magnificent peices, bit in the case of a wristwatch, wears it?
I walked in a watch shop once and the salesperson introduces me to
07/22/2010 - 10:12
a person there and tells me "let me introduce you to another VC enthusuasts" the gentelman and I exchange a few words he then lifts his sleeve and is wearing.... a Tour de l'Ile!!!!!
After you rubbed your eyes and cleared your throat...
07/23/2010 - 01:49
Did you call him Sir and or Boss? I've seen two King Kallas on two different men. My wife tried on the Ladies version in Arizona. However I'd prefer "just one" Tour de l'Ile!  If you're courteous as to whom, just PM. Luca
Great article, Alex!!
07/22/2010 - 06:17
Thanks for the photos and report on these complicated pieces, especially the pocket watches, with which I am less familiar. I met a pocket watch collector who claimed to have the third most complicated VC PW ever produced. He made no mention of having the Farouk. I need to track him down and (politely) ask to see his watch... :-) Bill
WOW would be great to see real life photos :-)
07/22/2010 - 10:13
z
Thank you for another great article-report.
07/23/2010 - 08:24
Even though I rather like simple watches, I learned a lot in reading this article: many thanks !
Thanks Berny
07/23/2010 - 11:28
s
Massive congratulations
07/23/2010 - 13:58
It has been a great and long moment to read this powerful article. Thank you a lot, dreaming watches in it. Deniz
massive thanx :-)
07/24/2010 - 02:49
.
I'm lost for words. It's real Haute Horlogerie. (nt)
07/24/2010 - 10:56
all the way on top!
07/25/2010 - 01:31
e
Re: Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
07/28/2010 - 16:13

Wow, the ultimate post for watch lovers IMO, thanks Alex.

Thanks Matt and welcome on board :-)
07/28/2010 - 17:18
.
Complicated Timepieces and keeping it simple
08/14/2010 - 09:29
very detailed information to feed the watch collectors. Thx. I am naturally attracted by highly complicated watches, although my collection contains not (m)any. Vacheron seems to limit the number of complications integrated in one watch to a safe number, as opposed to other brands going for superlative numbers, like JLc or f. Muller with 24+ complication in one watch. Having said that, it is very much in the style of VC to integrate harmoniously these complications so that they all remain fairly readable and don't "compete" with each other on the dial. Highly complicated watches take a long long time to appreciate fully, and now, thanks to 3D virtual world one can literrally travel through the calibre to discover its intricate details.
Re: Massive Attack: Vacheron Constantin's Most Complicated Timepieces
10/08/2010 - 05:58
Vacheron Constantin Watches and Collecting  At the Antiquorum thematic auction for Vacheron Constantin's quarter millennium the brand introduced a few pieces developed specially for the 250th anniversary. The collectors are getting more and more interested in Vacheron Constantin watches. For many collectors the brand was well known but now they are getting really attracted by its timepieces. The 250th anniversary also captured the attention of a lot of watch connoisseurs. Authentic Vacheron Constantin watches that are not striving for fashion will continue to enjoy the appreciation of collectors. Although the brand launches excellent contemporary pieces produced in limited editions or models no longer in production, its vintage models are still in great demand. Naturally, the time factor has always significantly influenced the choice of he collectors. It is proved again and again that the weight of history should not be ignored. If a 1940s chronographs and a contemporary chronograph are presented for sale the collector will most probably get interested in the vintage model. At one of the actions pocket watch was purchased for over a million Swiss francs by some passionate collector. The clients, who acquire a branded item, stop their choice at an accumulation of historical values that add to the item's overall value. The buyers are very often guided by an emotional aspect linked to the item's past giving it a particular credibility in the eyes of the customers. The Vacheron Constantin producers do not try to be image makers. They trust their collectors are able to decide themselves what is worth their attention. If the watch amateurs think that vintage Vacheron Constantin timepieces are worth hunting for at auctions then it will provide a powerful image accelerator for the company and its further credibility.