Vacheron Constantin redefines the boundaries of Fine Watchmaking

Lara Mansour   |   16 - 01 - 2017

A shining new addition to the watchmaking galaxy with Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600.

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Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 combines astronomy and watchmaking in a celestial white gold composition. Twenty-three essentially astronomical complications appear on the front and back dials of the watch, providing a reading of time in three modes, civil, solar, and sidereal, each driven by its own gear train. Embodying the height of technical sophistication, its new fully integrated 514 part caliber measures a mere 8.7 mm thick, while six barrels guarantee three full weeks of autonomy.

Featuring an all-new construction and equipped with 57 complications, this mechanical masterpiece follows in the eminent wake of a unique creation representing a milestone in the history of mechanical horology and laying a veritable cornerstone for new watchmaking feats by Vacheron Constantin.

Five years of development starting from a blank page, a dedicated master-watchmaker, along with two years of design, have given life to the one-of-a-kind Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600, displaying 23 complications on its twin dials. This Haute Horlogerie ‘heavenly phenomenon’ is one of the most complex ever made and heir to a proud lineage of astronomical timepieces.

Astronomy, the study of celestial objects, is closely bound up with horology. The former seeks to explain the origins, evolution, and properties of heavenly bodies. The latter strives to capture and mechanically express the course of time and its perpetual dance with the stars, a challenge successfully met in this watch providing a combined display of civil, solar, and sidereal times by means of three separate gear trains.

A remarkable feat of miniaturisation and engineering, the new timepiece, controls more than 20 functions and has a three-week power reserve. It is yet another vivid demonstration of the technical expertise cultivated by the Maison in the field of astronomical complications. This expertise dates back to the late 19th century, with pocket-watches featuring a perpetual calendar, moon phases and sidereal time, and later, in 1914, equipped with a running equation of time display.

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A Waltz in Triple Time

Epitomising the peak of horological mastery, this unique timepiece equipped with a wealth of astronomical complications united within an incredibly small area, represents an impressive sum of knowledge, calculations, and fine adjustments. Its captivating functions notably feature the triple-time, civil, solar, and sidereal displays powered by three distinct gear trains.

Swept over by a pair of white gold open-tipped hands, civil (or standard) time is read in the traditional manner on the front dial. True solar time is on the other hand based on the visible trajectory of the Sun during the day, expressed through its hour angle measured at a given place and time. Depending on the day of the year, the difference between solar time and mean time ranges from +14 to -16 minutes, with the two exactly coinciding only four times a year. Thirdly, sidereal time is read off on the back of the watch. Technically regarded as an astronomical time scale based on the Earth’s rate of rotation measured with respect to the apparent motion of the ‘fixed’ stars as observed from a local meridian, sidereal time differs from mean time by approximately four minutes per day.

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Running Equation of Time

To measure and display the difference between civil and solar time, this timepiece is equipped with a complex and refined equation of time mechanism. Moreover, the latter is also a ‘running’ equation of time, a kind rarely seen in wristwatches and indicating solar time by means of an additional coaxial pink gold minute hand adorned with a cut-out sun. The running equation of time is far more complex to create and enables instant readings of solar and civil times, so to ensure exactitude and precision, Vacheron Constantin has adjusted it to a tropical gear train simulating the tropical year, meaning the time the Earth takes to make a full turn around the Sun.

Time and Tides

This unique creation features a doubled-sided display of 23 complications. On the front, the slate grey dial reveals 15 artfully arranged complications. As well as readings of civil and solar time by three coaxial hands, it also has a perpetual calendar with a precision moon phase as well as a remarkable mareoscope composed of a tide level indicator and a 3D depiction of the Earth-Moon-Sun alignment.

Tides are governed by physical laws and depend on the gravitational attraction and centrifugal forces of these three heavenly bodies. Representing a ‘memory’ of time yet to come, a perpetual calendar is able to keep track of the irregularities of the Gregorian calendar with no need for any intervention other than a date change every 400 years. It displays the day of the week, the month and the leap-year cycle through apertures, while pointing to the date with a serpentine hand.

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Stellar Transparency

On the back of the watch, a second dial is also brimming with worthwhile astronomical functions. Composed of two superimposed sapphire discs, it is distinguished by its limpid, airy design as well as the originality of its translucent celestial chart for which a patent has been filed. In the foreground, this display depicts the constellation viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, ringed by an anthracite inner bezel ring showing the months of the year as well as a gauge-type power-reserve indicator. On this same transparent disc, two ellipses, one red and the other white, respectively correspond to the projections of the ecliptic and the celestial equator. Positioned beneath the constellation, a second disc rimmed by a graduated scale displays sidereal time and the four cardinal points, while an anthracite-coloured sphere reveals a see-through view of the celestial map.

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A Feat of Technical Sophistication and Miniaturisation

The extremely complex and exclusive Caliber 3600 powering this exceptional watch called for five years of development, from the start of its fully integrated conceptualisation through to the finishing touches on its refined exterior. This mechanical manual winding movement not only achieves the feat of combining more than 20 horological complications, but also has an extraordinary three-week power reserve ensured by six barrels, coupled by three. It naturally takes considerable energy to ensure that such an impressive number of astronomical indications operate with all due precision.

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To achieve this, the manufacture worked simultaneously on two fronts, by seeking to save energy on the one hand, and by increasing the size of its power supply. So, to optimise the energy stored as well as its transmission, the barrel springs are made from a sturdy and ductile Bioflex® alloy, while the involute gears mesh in an ideal manner. Finally, the six barrels guarantee a substantial storage volume, while keeping the calibre as slim as possible. The resulting ensemble is a true feat of miniaturisation, comprising 514-part finely adjusted and meticulously decorated parts and measuring just 8.7 mm thick. This unique mechanism, equipped with a tourbillon featuring a large balance wheel for enhanced precision and regularity, fits neatly inside an elegant 45 mm diameter white gold case.

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Reaching for the Stars

Presented in the collection Les Cabinotier, made of exclusive timepieces, this astronomical super complication model exemplifies the tradition of Geneva’s 18th century ‘cabinotiers’. These highly specialised watchmaking artisans in their attic workshops created authentic bespoke masterpieces intended for prestigious clients around the world. Fired by the same spirit of blending horological prowess with exclusive service and extreme personalisation, Vacheron Constantin perpetuates this same philosophy of excellence. The quintessentially rare Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 is issued in a limited edition of one. Fitted with an alligator leather strap secured by a white gold pin buckle, it comes in a luxurious presentation box adorned with wood marquetry.

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