The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon

The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon


In september 2015 Vacheron Constantin presented the ref 57260, with 57 complications it was and remains the world's most complicated watch ever made.

However there were questions whether we would see certain complications found in this überwatch in wristwatch format.


The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon

Well here is the first spinoff with the use of an armilliary tourbillon

In fact this Maitre Cabinotier is a unique piece with a dual retrograde time display and a double axis spherical tourbillon, inspired by French chronometry of the 18th century yet made with 21st century watchmaking in mind and the use of new avant garde techniques.

The movement coated with NAC (a special metal alloy) is also revealed through lateral windows of the impressive 45.7mm 18K white gold case flanks (the case measures 20.6mm thick but includes the domed crystal)                                                      

Before delving deeper into the amazing technical feat of Cal 1990 let's just step back and savour what vacheron Constantin has done: A superb timepiece, viciously cool in looks and with such audacity that we rarely expect from these venerable Geneva based brands. Vacheron Constantin has  given its vision of 21st century Haute Horlogerie and the result is nothing short of astounding.

Double retrograde system 

The manually wound calibre 1990 movement developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin features retrograde hours and minutes indications with instant flyback. The hands flick back to zero in high speed and to have them as lightweight as possible they are crafted in titanium.  


Armillary tourbillon

The elegantly structured tourbillon operates as a sphere perpetually rotating on two axes under a sapphire crystal dome at 9 o'clock. It’s called an armillary tourbillon because it is based on an armillary sphere like the one incorporated in an astronomic clock made by the French clockmaker, Antide Janvier, in the 18th century. The tourbillon is a visual evocation of the rings and hoops of the ancient model of the celestial sphere. The spherical balance spring, which was first developed by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet in 1814, is particularly rare in today’s watches. The shape ensures the concentric development of the spring and consequently the isochronism of the balance wheel. The tourbillon carriage, made of lightweight aluminium alloy, incorporates Vacheron Constantin’s Maltese Cross emblem, which forms up every 15 seconds as the tourbillon rotates. This ongoing spectacle may be admired every 30 seconds through a sapphire crystal opening on the side of the case.


The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon


High-precision movement

As fascinating as it is for its action and construction, the armillary tourbillon achieves remarkable timekeeping precision. It is fitted with a new type of escapement, developed and made by Vacheron Constantin that has the escape wheel and lever in silicon with diamond pallet stones for resistance to wear and long life. The escapement, made as lightweight as possible by the use of high-tech materials, contributes significantly to the performance of this watch, which greatly exceeds the COSC requirements. This level of precision is all the more noteworthy considering the large amount of energy absorbed by the double retrograde indications.

Contemporary styling and finish

Another feature that makes the Maître Cabinotier retrograde armillary tourbillon watch original is the modern styling applied to the architecture and finish of the movement. The calibre 1990 is electro-plated with an NAC treatment in a dark anthracite colour creating a mirror-polished effect. On the dial side the movement displays its modern architecture with sharply cut bridges tempered by a sunburst satin finish and Geneva stripes. The back presents a more conventional look, finished with Geneva stripes making an elegant counterpoint to the contemporary face of this unparalleled watch in the Vacheron Constantin collection. The painstaking work of chamfering all the angles took more than 130 hours!!

The indications are shown on two dials that partially cover the baseplate so as to reveal the outlines and contemporary finish of the movement. On the right, the retrograde minutes and hours hands describe a semicircle over a sunburst satin finish punctuated by applied white-gold hour markers and a black minutes scale. Placed symmetrically, the tourbillon carriage carries the seconds pointer around a scale on a silvered disc. 


The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon


Four patents are pending for the Calibre 1990 


1.    The instantaneous retrograde system

The minutes cam alone determines when the hands for the minutes and the hours fly back. The retrograde action of both hands is thus synchronised at noon and at midnight.


2.    The collet

The collet fixing the spring to the balance staff is made in lightweight titanium to improve the isochronism of the balance. Titanium’s weight and volume match those of the other materials in the regulating organ, making the collet ideal for use in a tourbillon.


3.    The multi-carriage tourbillon

The tourbillion is made up of two carriages, one inside the other. As they rotate they form a Maltese Cross every 15 seconds. The tourbillon has a Vacheron escapement and sprung balance. The escape wheel is made of silicon with a diamond-like coating, while the diamond pallet stones have a very low coefficient of friction.


4.    The lever

The silicon lever can be fitted with movable pallet stones so that the watchmaker can adjust them as in a conventional pallet lever. The diamond coating of the lever makes it stronger and more resistant to wear, while the friction between the fork and impulse pin is markedly reduced.


The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon



Technical data for Calibre 1990


 Mechanical, manual-winding  

 35 mm (15’’’ ¾) diameter, 10 mm thick

 Approximately 65 hours of power reserve        

 2.5 Hz (18,000 vibrations/hour)               

 299 components

 45 jewels

                                                         NAC treatment

Technically Amazing, but aesthetically not my cup of tea.
03/28/2016 - 14:47

But I'm sure this unique masterpiece already has an owner, so my opinion on its looks doesn't matter! cheeky

a WONDERFUL piece of Horological Art.
03/28/2016 - 15:24

Congratulations to VC teams and to the Lucky Owner who will get an incredible "Garde-Temps".

A major evoution, even in the vision delivered by VC to the community. Never stand still.

We could expect other innovative proposals issued from all new patents, in the following years.




03/28/2016 - 15:55

Technically and aesthetically amazing.  I find the armillary tourbillon a bit "imposing", so I don't find that aspect aesthically pleasing.  However, I like the look of the NAC coating and the white gold numerals.  Using Roman numerals was an interesting choice.  I wonder if a "two hand" center secongs retrograde has been considered.  I would envision it working like this.

A white hand and a colored hand (black or red of yellow, whatever works) are used to tell the seconds along the same scale as the retrograding minute hand.  The white hand counts 1-30 and "flies back" as the colored hand ticks off 31-60.  That would save the (in my opinion) unpleasantness of the tourbillon cage  with the seconds marker.

Instant reset every 30 seconds may be a monster energy drain though....

Jekyll and Hyde
03/28/2016 - 17:32

I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.     Robert Louis Stevenson; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The duality of this piece is represented by the tension of form vs function.  Surely the controversial avant garde styling was anticipated, but the doors were clearly flung open in the atelier's of VC and a blast of fresh air inspired such mechanical innovations as demonstrated with this new Calibre 1990 and its progenitor the 57260.

Leaving comments on form to others, except to ask if an animation will be made to illustrate the marvelous new complication of a Wandering Maltese Cross, I'm  thrilled to read its mechanical specifications.  "Silicon escapement" was a phrase thought never to be heard at VC, and Monsieur Kauffmann can no longer wrinkle his nose at the mention of DLC coatings!  Nicely, the historic connection with aluminum was revived, and I celebrate the boldness of a boasted accuracy "which greatly exceeds the COSC requirements".  Some demonstration of the succès d'estime for this last factor would be the apreciated; perhaps an Observatory certificate.


Interestingly the tourbillon of the 57260 was 1st
03/28/2016 - 21:04

Tested in wrist watch format and thus this piece which served almost as prototype !!

That's a cool tidbit, thanks Alex
03/29/2016 - 00:41


An acquired yet compelling taste
03/28/2016 - 19:01

On a viseral level, I like it -- in the same way I'd like a flying saucer landing in my back yard; scary but heck, I'd probably hop on board and go for a ride.

Could this development usher in changes regarding the use of new materials in regular pieces?
03/29/2016 - 12:50

I sort of recall Charly Torres as saying a while back that VC will stick to traditional materials and improve watchmaking within that realm.

Now that VC has started using silicon, etc. in this watch, should we consider the above statement a case of "never say never"?  That is, can we expect to see new materials trickling into VC's future offerings (like other high-end brands are doing of late)?


Kazumi devil


Re: The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon
03/29/2016 - 15:42

Perhaps the watch should be called "Die Fledermaus", given the shape of all three bridges. enlightenedwink

03/29/2016 - 16:33

The true spiritual successor to the Batman pieces?

LOL, now I see it
03/29/2016 - 22:52

LOL, now I see it

Good one, Joseph smiley

Good one :-)
03/29/2016 - 23:03
Thanks for sharing
03/29/2016 - 21:10

Not my taste to say the least,Maybe I should write nothing instead of criticizing but in my view awfully thick and a loupe on the tourbillon is not the kind of refined elegance I expect from VC.Now it's Cabinotiers, "the customer is king" still I would not have communicated on that one :) my 2 cents 


It's not a loupe over the tourbillon but a domed crystal
03/29/2016 - 23:03


Thanks Alex, a most interesting piece!
03/30/2016 - 03:21

I love everything about this watch, save for the domed crystal part...

It was love at first sight when I saw the first picture of the movement you posted. It really looks like something that would come out of MB&F's shop (of course saying this as a compliment), and I love the coating done on the movement (it reminds me of the Malte tourbillon with darkened metal made in 3 examples for the SIngapore (?) market a few years ago)... I would love to see live pictures of this watchcheeky

As Dean said, it would also be great to see a video of when the Maltese cross comes together...


If I had the funds, I wouold ask for the exact same watch, but replace the armillary tourbillon for a "standard" one, to make the watch thickness more palatable and avoid the domed crystal.


Thanks Alex!



Re: The unique Maitre Cabinotiers Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon
03/30/2016 - 03:52

On a more thoughtful note...

The more I studied this watch and its specs the more I liked it. Not from a purely esthetic point of view since overall it's not my cup of tea. But from a technical, scientific  and creative aspect it is really a tour de force.

I think the 2 axis tourbillon bringing the Maltese cross together is an inspired concept. I would love to see that in motion (slow motion). The relation to the armillary sphere is intesting and I see the connection. But multi-axes tourbillons are a bit of a turn-off for me, cumbersome, inelegant as a wristwatch, but I would love to have one on my desk to contemplate the marvels of science and the heavens.

However, compared to some other multi-axes tourbillons, this VC is a model of restraint.

I think the buyer of this cabinotier piece and Vacheron must have had some interesting discussions about its design elements. Certainly it seems as if the watch seved as something of a test-bed for experimenting with new materials and concepts, titanium hands, diamonds in the escapement, aluminium alloys etc.

Also the design of the jumping hands is fascinating. I believe this may be the first incidence od 2 retrograde hands on the same side of the dial. I would be interested to know if VC installed any anti-vibration or braking technology into the hand movement section.

Twice a day those hands are going to jump back together with a significant amount of inertia!

When you look at the dial, though, it's a bit like getting a whole watch on half a dial. smiley

(Just thinking out loud, as it were)

Patrimony Bi-retro
03/31/2016 - 14:58

Hey Joseph,

I think you probably meant "the first of two retrograding hands on the same AXIS", but if you meant on the same side of the dial, then the Patrimony Bi-Retro would searve as the counter example.  Thanks for the thoughtful analysis... some very interesting things to contemplate.  I am curious what this may mean for materials in "production references" as well.

Re: Patrimony Bi-retro
04/01/2016 - 12:38

Thanks Jamie,

I didn't explain myself well.

The biretro you mentioned has one pointer for the days and another for the date, but 2 separate axes.

I was referring to the fact that both the minute and hour pointers are on the same side of the dial as opposed to the  Mercator or any of the "bras en l'air" designs wher the minutes are on one side and the hours on the other. smiley


Wow. Technically superb, but aesthetics not my cup of tea. But then,
03/30/2016 - 06:11

Aesthetics is not what this wath is primarily about. 

A few questions:

a) Since this is Maitre Cabinotier and not Atelier Cabinotier, does this mean that this was thought up by VC as they have done for the Watches and Woners past two years?

b) Was this designed and developed after the 57260? An the same three amazing watchmakers?

c) Have the Hallmark of Geneva criteria been updated to take into account the new materials / innovation etc. seen in this? 

I will read about this and slowly digest this timepiece. But it is amazing that the 57260 can act as a platform for spinoffs. 

Thanks for sharing.


Re: Wow. Technically superb, but aesthetics not my cup of tea. But then,
04/01/2016 - 09:20

To answer your questions 

- Maitre Cabinotier are one off pieces created by VC for no client in particular as opposed to Atelier Cabinotier where VC makes a one off on commission

- the tourbillon in this watch is similar to that of the 57260 but in fact created in wristwatch format as a prototype of that in the 57260

- the Geneva seal has not been modified, the criteria regarding movement finish apply here too



Crystal architecture!
03/31/2016 - 05:42

The dome at 9 o'clock, with which the armillary tourbillon is covered,

is like a beautiful modern building.