Today, September 17th is Vacheron Constantin's 260th anniversary...of course, the horological world has been awaiting this day for more than this reason alone. After all, at a special celebration in Geneva, today is the day that Vacheron Constantin finally revealed the mysterious "Grand Oeuvre" - the custom-made watch with reference number 57260 they have confidently called "the most complicated watch in the world".
Why the buzz about the Grand Oeuvre?
So what's the hubbub over this watch, code name "Project Tivoli" (very super spy!)? Commissioned by a private collector, this grand complication pocket watch houses the brand new and completely unique complications which had to be designed from scratch! This double-dial watch has been created in-house by three Vacheron watchmakers; who have worked on it for the last eight years.
While Vacheron has not specified the total number of complications they have created, they have revealed that Grand Oeuvre contains both new and familiar complications; the familiar have however been modified to accommodate the newly designed complications.
Grand Oeuvre Complications
In an inspired move, Vacheron Constantin chose to be very clever with how they dispensed this information...different packets of information were revealed to different journalists and publications around the world (here are examples of this dispensation to Watch Time and Hodinkee). They definitely wanted everyone to work for their knowledge! Let's take a look at what these hints were; and you can see if you can find these complications in the watch!
Westminster Carillon Chiming
What this charming complication does is that it chimes the time, as a minute repeater, or as it passes...depending on which setting you've chosen. And it's not just any chimes...these will be the same notes played by London's Big Ben!
So how does this work exactly? There are two hands for different functions - one used to choose between "Silence", "Night" and "Chime", and the other to choose either a Petite Sonnerie (PS) or a Grande Sonnerie (GS). While the Silence and Chime settings are self-explanatory, the night-time silence feature is the first automatically activated quiet-time, between 10PM and 8AM, wherein the watch will not chime and disturb its owner. Your choice of PS or GS will determine the frequency of chiming - hour and quarter strikes individually, vs an hour and quarter strike together for every passing quarter hour. Learn more about this complication.
Celestial Sky Chart and Sidereal Time
Since this is a commissioned watch, the complication is going to be customized to suit the owner. Hence, this complication shows the constellations in the night sky, as seen from the owner's home city. The Sidereal (star) time is read by tracking the chosen star's rotation on the corresponding outer 24-hour scale - it's position in relation to the 24-hour scale reflects its sidereal time.
Concentric around the outer body is the sector scale for the retrograde date in the perpetual calendar, which automatically corrects for the number of days in the month and automatically resets to the starting point at the beginning of each month. Learn more about this complication.
Dual Calendar - A World First!
The Grand Oeuvre is the proud recipient of the world's first dual calendar mechanism, which two independent and still mechanically integral options that can be read at the same time - the traditional Gregorian perpetual calendar and the ISO 8601 business calendar. This is the ISO 8601's first inclusion in a watch.
Unlike the perpetual calendar, which has a retrograde date display and tracks days of the week, months and leap years, the business calendar measures the year in 52 weeks. When this setting is applied, the priority is for the week number as well as the specific date, rather than the month and date. Learn more about this complication here, as well as in the Watch Time article mentioned earlier in the post.
Seasonal Calendar and Astronomic Scale
The seasonal and astronomical indicator is one of the existing complications that has been re-imagined by Vacheron Constantin. This complications, which contains three indicators, encircles one of the watch's two dials.
The outermost scale displays the month, along with the number of days in each. The middle scale displays all the corresponding Zodiac signs, along with the solstices and equinoxes. The innermost scale shows the seasons. Learn more about this complication from this Quill & Pad article (this is also covered in the Hodinkee link above).
Dual Tone Alarm
If a watch has an alarm function, you don't usually have a choice in how it rings. The Grand Oeuvre has no such problem. Here, the owner can choose which tone he prefers, as visible on the indicator - the carillon Westminster chime or the conventional mechanical alarm. This choice of alarm styles is a first for Vacheron!
So how does this work? The indicator displays both the alarm tone choices as well as the power reserve status. The outer indicator displays the individual power reserve, while the inner indicator displays the alarm sound - "C" for carillon Westminster or "N" for the normal alarm. When the carillon Westminster tone is selected, the alarm will play in either Grande Sonnerie or Petite Sonnerie; in the normal setting, the alarm sounds on a single gong independent of the Westminster five and set at a different pitch. Learn more about this complication here and in the Quill & Pad article.
Dual Sunrise/Sunset and Length of Day/Night Indicators
On the face of it, a Day/Night Indicator is nothing new. But now we know that it's not so straightforward! This complication has two sectors which indicate the changing times of sunrise and sunset throughout the year, along with the accompanying change in duration of day and night.
The left indicator shows the sunrise and the day length, while the right indicator shows the sunset and night length. The sunrise and sunset times are what determine how many hours are there in the day and night for that particular time of year, with both indicators showing a grand total of 24 hours between them. Learn more about how this complication works.
Even with just these six complications, it became obvious to watch lovers that the new Vacheron Constantin Grand Oeuvre is going to be an incredible masterpiece - one that has opened new frontiers in haute horology. And now that we can see the end result, are we left in any doubt?
12-Hour World Time Indication - an Original
World Time is a complication that, while not very common, is still seen in some watches. Vacheron Constantin has taken it one step further now, with its original world time function; the idea being a way to indicate the time zones in an easy-to-read fashion, without any clutter.
This complication is a small 12-hour second time zone dial, independent of the main dial, with two indicator windows above it - one that displays whether it is day or night in the chosen city, and the other showing a choice of 24 cities, as displayed by its appropriate three-letter abbreviation, and its time with respect to Greenwich Mean Time. See how this complication works here.
Double Retrograde Split Seconds Chronograph - Another first!
With its innovative design and construction, this is the world's first rattrapante with a double retrograde action. Creating this complication required a whole new chronograph mechanism to be designed and created in-house at Vacheron Constantin.
The chronograph is read in much the same manner as a regular split seconds chronograph. However, in this avatar of the complication, despite the two hands working simultaneously off the same axis, they operate on two separate scales on opposing sides of the dial and never actually meet! For all intents and purposes, the most accurate term coined for this complication could be a detached split seconds chronograph. Learn more about how to use this complication.
Armillary Sphere Tourbillon
This was another complication that was developed in-house, and is being hailed as a visual and technical marvel. Vacheron has named the newly-created tourbillon "Armillary" on account of its similar appearance to the scientific "armillary sphere".
This is an incredibly elegant triple axis tourbillon which displays as a three-dimensional rotating sphere that travels simultaneously in three directions. The tourbillon cage is made of ultra-light aluminium, in which rests an escapement that incorporates the Vacheron Maltese Cross logo. In fact, once every 15 seconds of the tourbillon's rotation, the Maltese Cross becomes completely visible. Learn more about this tourbillon and how it came to be created.
In addition to the dual calendar complication already present in the watch, Vacheron has also developed a Metonic calendar, which measures the Metonic cycle. This is a very unique complication to include in a timepiece, especially one already housing two other related but completely independent calendar systems. The Metonic cycle can be used to predict eclipses and calculate the date of Easter every year.
The Metonic cycle, named after a 5th century BC Athenian astronomer Meton, is a period of 19 years. This is significant because this figure is a common multiple of the seasonal year and the synodic month (a sidereal month + the time it takes the moon to return to the same spot in the sky, taking into account the earth's rotating around the sun). 19 years is almost exactly equal to 235 lunar months, with a small difference of 2 hours. Learn more about this complication.
High Precision Moon Phase
A moon phase complication is one that has been around for a while. However, the version being used in the Grand Oeuvre has more to offer than just the moon phase.This complication has four indications to display the four phases the moon passes through each month...displaying the moon's age, as it were.
The point to note is, of course, the touting of even more preciseness of the calculations. This is on account of how the moon cycle as measured. The outer ring of the complication measures the moon cycle according to the synodic period. As per both these measurements, in 1027 years and 108 days, the Vacheron moon phase will show a deviation of only one day. Learn more about this complication.
Now that the timepiece is finally out for the world to see, we can properly appreciate all these tidbits that we've been pouring over and imagining. And even though this watch isn't going to be commercially available, it's still incredible to know that such a piece exists and that all of these amazing innovations were fit into one timepiece. This is truly a new frontier for haute horology and innovation!