remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?


remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

During the 2005 quarter millennium celebration most of the attention was focused on the amazing Tour de l'Ile and we tend to forget that Vacheron Constantin had created another amazing piece (even more interesting considering the different crafts involved in making it: watchmaking, engraving, goldsmith, android maker, enamel...) the unique Esprit des Cabinotiers.

Way before I had any idea how many different models Vacheron Constantin would be presenting for their 250th anniversary rumor had it that the Geneva based brand was preparing a one of a kind clock and that it would be breathtaking. 

At the time I had got my spies out, kept ears and eyes wide open but 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 250 years of know-how?

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 tireless quest for technical and aesthetic perfection. This exceptionally majestic object asserts its powerful presence in harmony with the traditions of 19th century timepieces made in extremely limited editions, table clocks driven by highly sophisticated mechanisms and clothed in an aura of supreme refinement.

This awe striking masterpiece consists of a golden sphere engraved by hand according to the sky chart drawn by 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 may be progressively opened by means of an extremely sophisticated spring mechanism.

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!

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

When set into motion, the pink gold sphere slowly opens up like a lotus flower, a symbol of harmony, and unfolds its eight petals, while a central telescopic cylinder raises up the timepiece nestling at its heart. With its sixteen small connecting rods, tiny sapphire balls and articulations, this original mechanism is entirely in keeping with the watchmaking traditions, as well as with the equally ancient and refined art of android automatons.

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.

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?


The overall effect is ethereal, mysterious and poetic, while the cabinet of the timepiece rests firmly on three solid gold feet. The transparency of the glareproofed 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 shell on the back of the clock serve to wind the mechanism by means of a key concealed within the base.

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

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.

For the anecdote, the movement ebauche of this masterpiece was found in Vacheron Constantin’s stocks and dates from 1934, no one quite knows where it came from…maybe its just a legend?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

notice the striking hammers on the bottom of the movement

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

side view into the movement

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!

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.

The lower part of the dial is occupied at 8 o’clock by the equation of time indication. The superb moon phase with its hand-engraved 18-carat gold disc (necessitating one week of engraving) is positioned at 6 o’clock against a starlit sky in lapis lazuli. The hand of the thermometer located at 4 o’clock is in blued steel, as indeed are those on the other counters.

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.

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?

This astounding clock made only one person happy, unfortunately it is a unique piece which was auctioned by Antiquorum in 2005 at the Quarter Millennium auction and sold for 2,206,250 CHF to a private party. I really find it a shame that this amazing clock is actually in someone’s home hidden from our eyes, its something which I think the VC museum should have bought.

Click on the link below to see a video (from YouTube) of the petals opening and closing:

Technical specifications


Materials: 18-carat 750 pink gold (5N), lapis lazuli, onyx, rock crystal, on a light alloy frame

Diameter and thickness: 325 mm, 80 mm

Description : Curved octagonal shape. Golden ring resting on three gold feet and topped by a polished onyx ring and then by a strip of rock crystal. The base ends in a lapis lazuli truncated pyramid with a curving octagonal shape.

Motor: Mechanical, twin-barrel,, “horological” finishing details on the movement, speed regulator. Controlled by a secret release mechanism. Automatic reversal of the direction (opening and closing the globe). To-and-fro winding by the lever concealed under the base with limitation of the degree of winding. Transformation of the rotating movement into a linear movement by ball-bearing screws.


Materials: 18-carat 750 pink gold (5N)

Diameter: 220 mm

Form and construction: Globe divided into a fixed half-sphere and 8 petals opening by means of 16 connecting rods linked to the telescopic shaft (on tiny sapphire balls) carrying the timepiece, driven by the mechanical motor housed within the base.
Finishing: The outside of the globe is in natural polished gold and features a depiction of the position of the stars on September 17th 1755 (date of the first document mentioning the existence of the House of Vacheron), decorated with a hand engraving inspired by the work of Robert de Vaugondy. The inside, enhanced by slender polished gold ribs, is finely satin-brushed.


Materials: 18-carat 750 pink gold (5N), Corundum

Diameter and thickness: 145 mm, 70 mm

Shape and construction: A cylinder and 2 sapphire crystal domes connected by a frame in 5N pink gold. An openworked support links the clock to the telescopic shaft at the centre of the sphere. Two holes for winding and time-setting are drilled into the rear dome.

Glasses: Sapphire crystal, glareproofed on both faces.


Dial material: 18-carat yellow gold

Material for appliques: 18-carat pink gold (5N)

Dial description: Silvered with special 250th anniversary hand-guilloché motif, minute disc encircling the dial in silvered 18-carat gold with engraved indications. “Grand feu” miniature enamelled 12-segment outer disc.


Indications & functions :

1. Hour on 12-hour display
2. Minutes
3. Deadbeat seconds
4. Hour on 24-hour display
5. Power reserve
6. Name of the day
7. Date of the day (perpetual)
8. Name of the month
9. Number of the year within the leap-year cycle
10. Equation of time
11. Age of the moon
12. Phases of the moon
13. Temperature
14. Astronomical calendar giving the position of the sun according to the Gregorian calendar. This mechanism was built on the basis of calculations by the mathematician Charles Etienne Louis CAMUS (1699-1768) and the watchmaking mechanical engineer Antide JANVIER (1751-1835).
15. Hours and quarters striking automatically “in passing” and on request, with the possibility of preventing the automatic striking.

Other technical characteristics:
Energy: Mechanical, twin-barrel, manual key winding

Regulating organs: Monometallic balance. Isochronous balance-spring ending in a Phillips curve, micrometric index (patented by Vacheron Constantin in 1884), Straight-line lever escapement with constant force system applied each second to the escape-wheel. This system precisely measures out the energy required for the regulator to perform 5 vibrations of an ideal and invariable amplitude.

Frequency: 18,000 vibrations per hour

Power reserve: Over seven days

Main dimensions:

Caging diameter: 125 mm
Total diameter: 129 mm
Total thickness: 41 mm

Base 88 parts
Globe 413 parts
Cabinet 92 parts
Presentation case 82 parts
Total 675 parts

Art and technology in its highest form
11/08/2007 - 14:03

Alex,  Thank you for this post, it truly is the most amazing piece I have ever seen. I also agree that Vacheron should own this and have it on display. Many of us will never get the opportunity to marvel at the level of art & skill that went into bringing this to completion. I could also see it as part of a traveling exposition, show casing Vacherons skills and would have to think it would have brought so much attention to the company and its product line....opportunity lost.

Re: remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?
11/08/2007 - 14:20

Really unique and wonderful.

I saw it working before the VC 250 year Antiquorum sale in April 2005, and I can say that there was a hell of people around it.

I will keep this in mind for ever!

Wow! Another great post!
11/08/2007 - 14:56

While this piece isn't really my style (a little bit too extravagant for me), I still am amazed at all the work that went into it - it is indeed a turly unique piece! What I like the most about the piece is the dial - it would have looked nice in a wristwatch.

I agree with the comment that it would have been better placed at the VC museum.

Thanks Alex for another interesting post, it makes for great reading!!!

Re: remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?
11/08/2007 - 15:05

HI Alex,

Thanks you for an outstanding article on this clock.

I personally feel that it is probably the most wonderful horological creation in a very, very long time.

And I agree that it is a great pity that it is not on display in a museum. That would be one item that would definitely be worth the trip!

Perhaps Vacheron could persuade the owner to let them take on tour around the world at their various meetings and publicity related affairs.



I recall reading
11/08/2007 - 15:46
that watch manufacturers are not allowed by Swiss law to buy their own watches if the watches are new. Rumor has it that VC took a financial loss on this clock, despite the impressive sale price. Bill
This clock is really impressive in the flesh
11/08/2007 - 22:17



I which I could see it in real
11/08/2007 - 23:15


Re: remember the unique clock l'Esprit des Cabinotiers?
11/12/2007 - 14:44

Waa! Wonderful!! Thanks for this article Alex!

Have you got some videos of this clock please? :)

Hi Fred, there is a link to a video on this clock in the article! (nt)
11/12/2007 - 15:10


I am big boulet, I was captivated by the text :-D , thanks Alex (nt)
11/12/2007 - 18:38