It was a Wednesday in Geneva in 1755. Wednesday, September 17 to be exact.
This was the day a 24-year old master watchmaker walked through the Saint-Gervais neighborhood on the right bank of the river Rhône on his way to the office of a certain Master Choisy, a notary who often handled legal matters for watchmakers.
That master watchmaker was young Jean-Marc Vacheron, and the day was notable because he was headed to Choisy’s office to complete a task that would later be noted as a historical moment: Vacheron was hiring his first apprentice, Esaïe Jean François Hetier.
As history books would later show, this simple act is the earliest known reference to Vacheron, and it marks the founding of one of the most traditional and respected firms in Swiss watchmaking: Vacheron Constantin, the world’s oldest watch manufacturer in continuous operation.
The symbolic date
September 17, 2015: 260 years after Jean-Marc Vacheron put quill to paper to found a dynasty, Vacheron Constantin unveils what it terms in its sumptuous new book Artists of Time “one of the greatest man-made objects in the world.”
Vacheron Constantin’s history has been filled with extraordinary, complicated, and elegant timepieces. However, the Genevan brand that calls itself “the maison” wanted to present a horological “triumph, ” something to rival the Tour de l’Île presented in 2005 on the occasion of Vacheron Constantin’s 250th anniversary. (For full details on that, read How Vacheron Constantin Celebrated Its 250th Anniversary In 2005.)
Eight years ago, Vacheron Constantin entrusted the conception and building of this mechanical work of art to a trio of brilliant watchmakers: Jean-Luc Perrin and brothers Micke and Yannick Pintus. Since then, this gifted triumvirate has spent eight years designing and producing what is now known as Reference 57260 under the aegis of Vacheron Constantin’s bespoke watch division.
The Atelier Cabinotiers represents a unique service among traditional watch brands: since 2007 it has offered connoisseurs the chance to commission a custom-made watch according to their own tastes and designs (but within the boundaries of the brand’s style). Reference 57260 came into being thanks to one of the world’s foremost collectors. While his identity remains anonymous, rest assured he is one of the greatest connoisseurs of horological art in the world, and that he already owns a number of masterpieces. This collector specifically requested that Vacheron Constantin create world’s most complicated timepiece for him.
The reference number, which is the only “name” this masterpiece officially goes by, is also symbolic and comprises two numbers: 57 for the number of complications it reportedly contains and 260 standing for the anniversary year.
No matter how you count the “complications” on this timepiece, 57 functions and displays make up a stupendous number that far exceeds anything else out there today. Even the celebrated Patek Philippe Supercomplication from 1933, which, coincidentally, also took eight years to complete, and the Patek Philippe Calibre 89 from 1989, which contains 33 functions and displays. Comprising 1, 728 components, Patek Philippe’s Calibre 89 held the record as the most complicated portable timepiece up to September 17, 2015.
Included in the new timepiece are complications desired by the collector that did not previously exist. These, of course, needed to be developed from scratch. Then the more conventionally known complications had to be reinterpreted to make space for the new.
The innovations included in Reference 57260 resulted in 12 patents being filed.
Easy reading and use
Two dials of solid silver comprise rotating discs and displays in lightweight aluminum. The use of the light metal was an energy-saving measure as 57 functions make for a heavy movement requiring lots of power to run.
Though it is hardly discernible as such, the time is actually quite easy to read on this busy watch, though it does take some getting used to. Shown in regulator style, the hours, minutes, and seconds are separated and thus display on different dials.
This masterpiece’s crown is placed at 12 o’clock in typical pocket watch tradition. It is a three-position crown outfitted with an indication window on the case band to show its position.
Vacheron Constantin has also revealed a new function making its debut in this wristwatch: the hidden flush-fit alarm winding button. This is an elegant hidden activator for the alarm function ensuring that the classic lines of the watch’s case remain whole and uninterrupted.
To wind the alarm, the button is released by depressing the crown and giving it a quarter turn. The button is then pushed back into the case.
Calendars – yes, plural
Reference 57260 also contains functions that have not yet been included in this form in a mechanical timepiece (though a simplified Jewish calendar has already been incorporated into timepieces by ). One of these new functions is a perpetual Hebraic calendar, which was specifically requested by the collector. This calendar is used both in Israel and for Jewish religious purposes throughout the world.