The World's Most Complicated Watch - Catch me if you can

In just a bit over a month, on Sept 17 Vacheron Constantin will be introducing waht will most probably be one of horology's most important timepiece.

Not only is the number of complications mind boggling with complications never seen before but even "traditional" complications have been done differently.


Let's take a closer look at the Double Retrograde Split Seconds Chronograph

The World's Most Complicated Watch - Catch me if you can

Completely new to the world of watchmaking, the extraordinary and visually dramatic Vacheron Constantin retrograde rattrapante chronograph is of a totally innovative design and construction.


This is the first watch ever to be made with a rattrapante chronograph with double 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 split-seconds chronograph, uniquely however, whilst both hands still work in unison and from the same axis, unlike all other split-seconds chronographs, the two hands never actually meet but operate on two separate scales on opposing sides of the dial. In this respect, the new chronograph can perhaps be best described as a “detached” split-seconds chronograph.


To create this function, a new chronograph mechanism has been invented and made entirely in-house at Vacheron Constantin specifically for this exceptional watch. In addition, it has been necessary to specially design and calculate the weight and balance of the two long and very fine chronograph hands so that the chronograph has perfect stability and extreme accuracy during operation.




This chronograph can be used either to time a single event or two events that begin simultaneously but do not necessarily end together. The unique feature of the chronograph is that although the operating function is that of a split-seconds chronograph, the two hands never re-join together in the usual way but are instead each read from a separate scale - providing both clarity and elegance.


Two retrograde chronograph scales, each numbered 0 - 60 and calibrated for 1/5th second intervals can be seen on the left and right edge of the dial just within the minute ring. When the button in the winding crown is depressed, both hands - the main chronograph hand and the secondary hand are started together, beginning their journey up the seconds scale on the left-hand side of the dial for the primary chronograph and the right-hand side for the secondary hand. Upon reaching the 60-second marks at the top of the scales the hands then instantaneously “fly” back to zero. Ingeniously, the movement is made so that the fractional time-lapse created by the fly-back action is automatically compensated for so ensuring complete accuracy.


The secondary retrograde chronograph function is equivalent in use to the split-seconds function in all other rattrapante watches but completely unique to Vacheron Constantin in both its construction and operation. This hand runs up the scale on the right-hand side in unison symmetrically with the primary chronograph hand. It is stopped and activated by depressing a button at 11 o’clock on the side of the case. If this button is depressed whilst the chronograph is in operation, the secondary chronograph hand is stopped and the timing can then be read. The secondary hand can be stopped independently of the primary chronograph at any required point to read an intermediate timing. Upon its release, the hand then instantaneously jumps in a “catch-up” action to position itself again symmetrical to the primary chronograph hand at the relevant position in its operation.


This action can be repeated as often as necessary throughout the period of timing. As with the primary chronograph hand, the secondary hand “flies” back to zero upon reaching the 60-second mark. 60-minute and 12-hour register dials record each elapsed minute and hour when the chronograph is in constant operation so that any event of up to 12 hours in duration can be accurately timed to 1/5th of a second. When the button in the crown is depressed a second time, both hands stop. To then reset both hands to zero the button in the crown is depressed a third time.


The co-axial button in the winding crown therefore has three actions:


First press – both hands are activated

Second press – the primary chronograph hand is stopped

Third press – both hands are returned to zero


The button on the side of the case at 11 o’clock has two actions:


First press – the secondary hand is stopped

Second press – the secondary hand is restarted and instantly finds its equal and opposite position on the right hand scale to mirror the position of the primary hand on the left.


Alex, thanks for this. I will read this in detail later. I'm sure fellow TH-Loungers
08/13/2015 - 15:21

would have already read and dissected this by now.

I am sure it is amazing. All the complications revealed so far are just plain amazing.

I hope this magnum-opus Finally silences those critics that feel that VC is nothing compared to its next-door rival.

But something is for certain. This is simply not just about money. This is also as much about a Labour of Love by the Les Atelier Cabinotier team and VC watchmakers in general. This term has recently been used by a well known blog in their review of the Harmony Dual Time, and I believe it extends to most of VC.

I think this timepiece calls for its own Book, which I hope will be written by someone - hopefully you. smiley One man may get to own this timepiece, but for his genorosity is sharing it with the world, I hope VC afficionados will be able to treasure the achievement in the form of a book. 

Most fascinating
08/13/2015 - 17:10

This complication just drips of elegance in design and execution!  Wonder if the piece has dual or even three trains?  The 1/5 second scale indicates a very traditional 18,000 vph frequency which is perhaps best for the retrograde functions.  I am very curious how the "catch-up" compensation works to maintain an accurate read-out?  The fraction it takes for the hands to jump has to be taken from somewhere else, so I'm guessing that, for instance, when the 2nd cycle of 60 seconds begins, it actually returns to zero plus x to account for the flyback travel time.

While I greatly admire this timepiece, it is the spin-off that hopefully will benefit mainstream VC movement design which is the gift that keeps on giving, courtesy of our esteemed collector heart.  Alex, is there an exclusivity agreement with the owner regarding the patents or features?

Re: Most fascinating
08/13/2015 - 23:17

Hi Dean,

Two separate trains are certainly a possibility. But I would guess 2 column wheels each with its own horizontal clutch to engage each hand separately, but driven off one train...just a guess :-).

I agree with you about the spin-offs though. I would also suspect that although the specific design is one-off, the design innovations and any patents would remain with Vacheron. I can't see how Vacheron or any other company would agree to anything else (unless of course the client provided all the technical specifications).

More likely he/she provided a list of functions and said "go ahead and do it".

08/14/2015 - 12:11

What an amazing reinvention of the ratrappante chrono. Would be beautiful to see this in a very plain Trad/Patrimony model i.e. just two hands plus this chrono set-up, no date, power reserve or anything else, not even a running seconds. Would be mesmerising! Ed

Great complication design
08/17/2015 - 20:38

The layout looks fantastic with the symetry and the very thin and long hands.

I appreciate the way VC is undertaking the project.

Maybe what I could not like totally about this layout is the legibility: it will be for instance difficult to see when the 2 second hands are "synchronized" or when they are delayed from 1, 2 or 5 seconds, especially while they are still ticking.

Measuring the gap between the two hands will remain I guess tricky.

But a great unique way to deal with a split-second feature.

Thanks a lot for the explanations Alex.