Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon
A true piece unique, the Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon is in all senses of the word, unique. A derivative from the acclaimed and record-breaking super-complication, Vacheron’s latest creation uses only 2 of the 57 complications found in the 57260, but as the name implies they aren’t anything to scoff at.
The first being the Vacheron Constantin armillary tourbillon complication, which is a double-axis tourbillon set in an armillary sphere. The tourbillon is made up of two carriages, one larger and smaller, with the smaller obviously residing in the larger of the two carriages. As the carriages rotate, they form Vacheron Constantin’s infamous Maltese Cross every 15 seconds which is a sight to behold. Not only does the tourbillon capture your attention via its incredible moving aesthetics, the mechanics within the tourbillon itself is quite brilliant. There is an escapement and sprung balance, with the escape wheel being made of silicon with a diamond-like coating (diamond pallet stones have a low co-efficient of friction). The entire carriage is made of an aluminium alloy which keeps the complication lighter than one made of a precious metal or steel. Due to the sheer size of the tourbillon, it sits under a sapphire crystal dome at 9 o’clock.
The second complication that the piece inherited from the 57260 is related to the art of actually telling the time. Typically a simple process, Vacheron Constantin decided to complicate matters by incorporating a double retrograde system. What this means is that the hours and minutes are represented by a retrograde flyback system as opposed to a normal sweeping seconds hand with respected hours and minutes hands. The hands travel along a half-dial type set up between 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. The half-dial track acts as the hours and minutes mechanism, serving as both a 12-hour and 60-minute indicator. Once the hands have completed their respective time-lapse, they jump back to the starting position instantaneously to begin the journey again.
Beyond the obvious technical marvels of the Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon, the piece is astonishingly beautiful. It reminds me of a more refined, more sophisticated Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane, which in itself is quite striking. Vacheron Constantin have taken the aesthetics of the piece one step further by adding a sapphire aperture to the side of the watch so that the wearer can see, in all its glory, the tourbillon swinging and swaying. Of course, the caseback of the timepiece is made of a sapphire crystal so that one is able to view the majority of the calibre 1990’s almost 300 handmade parts no matter the angle.
The watch itself is quite massive, and at about 45mm in diameter and 20mm in height, this isn’t going to be a daily beater by any means. The case is made of 18K white gold and has been mirror-polished to perfection. The Vacheron Constantin Maitre Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon is one of those pieces that tread the very fine line between traditional haute horlogerie and contemporary watchmaking architecture. It is without a doubt one of the finest timepieces, piece unique or not, to come out of one of the oldest Swiss ateliers in watchmaking. Vacheron have done an outstanding job in reminding us all as to why they should be regarded as a top tier, upper echelon watchmaking powerhouse. Oh, and the price? It’s probably better left unsaid.