Veni, Vidi, Vici. Like Caesar, Vacheron Constantin has triumphed. “Reference 57260, bearing the Hallmark of Geneva, is a double-dial horological masterwork of hitherto unimaginable complication and technical innovation.” Rarely has a watchmaker described its work in such fitting terms. Vacheron Constantin could even be accused of understatement. Put into figures, the extent of the exploit becomes clear. Reference 57260 exhibits 57 complications made possible by 2,826 components and weighs close to one kilo. It took a full eight years to bring this extraordinary timepiece to fruition, and the combined talent of three master watchmakers within the Cabinet des Cabinotiers workshop where Vacheron Constantin produces bespoke watches for its clients and most dedicated collectors. There are ten patents pending to protect the innovation behind this unique piece whose value, a closely-guarded secret, amounts to several million.
Put simply, Vacheron Constantin has presented the most complicated watch ever made. In order to substantiate its claim, the company turned to the specialist authorities at the Poinçon de Genève, to Arnaud Tellier, expert and former curator of the Patek Philippe Museum, and Aurel Bacs, chairman of the jury for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and saleroom star who now officiates with Phillips auction house. Even though there is no definitive consensus as to what constitutes a horological complication, a verdict was returned mid-September in favour of the Genevan Manufacture, which now wears the ultimate laurels of victory.
"An incredible human adventure"
Beyond the purely technical exploit, Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO Vacheron Constantin, was at pains to highlight the human element in this adventure when presenting Reference 57260 in Geneva: “This incredible story began in 2007, shortly after we introduced the Cabinet des Cabinotiers concept. Unlike the other ultra-complicated watches that we have developed from existing calibres, Vacheron Constantin had no movement to hand that might lend itself to this exercise, and so we had to build this unprecedented project from the ground up. Consequently, the Reference 57260 watch was conceived as an entirely new and totally original piece, as demonstrated by the double retrograde split-seconds chronograph or the perpetual Hebraic calendar, the first of its kind.”
This human adventure began with a meeting. That of Dominique Bernaz – retail director at Vacheron Constantin and newly appointed at the head of the Cabinet des Cabinotiers, then in its launch phase – with a collector and acquaintance who happened to be in Geneva for an auction. “I’d agreed to take on responsibility for the “Cabinotiers” in the full knowledge that for this new department to have any meaning, we had to be able to supply it with special orders. Hence why I wanted to meet this particular collector, thinking this would give me a good chance of setting the process in motion. Basically, I was almost certain he would be interested by a proposal to craft a watch to his specifications.” An intuition that proved correct. The request, however, came like a bolt from the blue: the collector in question, whose anonymity is protected by a contract that took 18 months to draft, accepted Vacheron Constantin’s proposition on condition that the Manufacture made him “the twenty-first century’s most complicated watch.”
After due consideration, Juan Carlos Torres agreed to rise to the challenge, namely to produce a timepiece that would have at least 36 complications. The watch to “beat” isn’t hard to find: after Breguet’s Marie-Antoinette watch, completed in 1827 and featuring every known complication of its day, the Leroy 01 and its 24 functions, delivered in 1904, became the new title-holder of most complicated pocket watch in the world, and remained so until the Patek Philippe Calibre 89, a commemorative piece for the company’s 150th anniversary, set a new record with its 33 complications for a total 1,728 parts. One of the four examples made sold for CHF 5.1 million when auctioned by Antiquorum in 2009. Which gives some idea of the price this Reference 57260 must command.
This minimum requirement of 36 complications also makes reference to another “rival” timepiece, in this instance a wristwatch. After Vacheron Constantin presented its Tour de l’Ile with 16 complications in 2006, three years later Franck Muller claimed the title of most complex watch for the Eternitas Mega 4 with its 36 complications. Not even Breguet’s Hommage to Nicolas G. Hayek Grand Complication with its 35 complications in 2013, nor the Grandmaster Chime whose 20 complications Patek Philippe unveiled in 2014 to celebrate its 175 years of ingenuity, were able to challenge this record. However much Juan-Carlos Torres may insist that Vacheron Constantin isn’t in a race to produce the greatest number of horological complications, and despite declaring that he would be happy to see the record beaten, proof of the watch industry’s infinite capacity for innovation, the glint in his eye as the curtain was raised on the Reference 57260 watch said all there was to say about his pride in positioning “his” firm at the highest pinnacle of mechanical watchmaking.
The functions in Reference 57260
- Time measurement functions including a triple-axis tourbillon with spherical balance spring and world time
- Perpetual calendar functions including retrograde date, number of the week and number of the day of the week
- Hebraic perpetual calendar functions
- Astronomical calendar functions including star chart, sidereal time and equation of time
- Lunar calendar function
- Religious calendar function with the date of Yom Kippur
- Chronograph functions with three column wheels
- Alarm functions
- Westminster Chimes striking functions
- Additional functions, including a secret mechanism to release the winding crown for the alarm