Monochrome Watches
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Vacheron Constantin ref.57260 – the World’s Most Complicated Watch with 57 Complications

| By Frank Geelen | 12 min read |
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Vacheron Constantin celebrates their 260th anniversary and for this occasion, they created the most complicated watch in the world (say that out loud like Jeremy Clarkson would do). With no less than 57 complications (that’s no typo, it is indeed fifty-seven!) it outpaces crushes the former most complicated watch, Patek Philippe’s Calibre 89 that features 33 complications. The list of complications alone is something you could study on (try memorising all 57), because there are quite a few entirely new complications that have never been created in the history of watchmaking. We’re going to show you the various complications, logically grouped, and explained with illustrations; here’s the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch.

The Vacheron Constantin Ref.57260 with 57 complications, crushes the former world-record of 33 complications

Unlike the previous ‘most complicated’ watch, which was introduced as a commemorative watch to celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary, this is a commissioned piece, made for a client. When you look at the list of complications, it’s easy to learn more about the commissioner. The calendar functions displayed on the main dial – the dial on which the time is also displayed – is a Hebraic Perpetual Calendar with a 19-year cycle, Hebrew name of the day, Hebrew name of the month, Hebrew date indication, Hebrew secular calendar, Hebrew Century, decade and year, an indication for the number of months in the Hebraic calendar year and an indication for the Golden Number with a 19-year cycle. That’s already eight of the fifty-seven complications. Five other complications are calibrated for New York, so there you go. The chances are good that this piece will be shipped to the Big Apple when the festivities of Vacheron Constantin’s 260th anniversary are over.

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Additionally, the date of Yom Kippur is indicated for the 19-year cycle, and around that is the self-correcting date hand and constant running seconds. On either side of the date, two windows indicate the number of days and months in Hebrew. And that’s just the beginning because, besides the regular time functions and the already mentioned Hebraic perpetual calendar functions, there are Westminster carillon striking functions, (Gregorian) perpetual calendar functions, moon phase functions, functions of the 3 column-wheel chronograph and alarm functions. Enough to make your head buzz. But first, let’s look at the aesthetics, because housing so many indications needs space; actual space inside the case for all mechanics, and space on the dial for all indications.

Historical perspective

The VC Ref. 57260 is an absolute milestone in watchmaking history, and it’s impossible not to mention Henry Graves and James Ward Packard competing for owning the world’s most complicated watch in the early 1900s. In 1918 Packard commissioned his timepiece with Vacheron Constantin, and took delivery in 1919, and thus he owned the most complicated watch at that time. In 1925 Graves commissioned a Patek Philippe that was delivered in 1933. That watch was the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication. It had 24 complications and it was the new most complicated watch in the world. And 24 complications remained the world-record until Patek created the Calibre 89 in 1989 to commemorate the brand’s 150th anniversary. It had 33 complications and that has been the benchmark ever since… until today.

Case, dials, and aesthetics of the Vacheron Constantin ref.57260

The case is made of solid 18-carat white gold, polished, and with glazed bezels on each side. It features a three-position winding crown with corresponding indication window on the case band, to the position of the crown (winding or setting). Inside the crown is the pusher to start, stop and reset-to-zero, the double retrograde chronograph and in the case band is the push-button for the rattrapante chronograph function. And there are several more pushers and adjusters for the various functions, which we will discuss with the various functions. Except for the crown, none of the pushers protrudes too much, so the watch keeps a round and relatively smooth profile.

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Of course, that does not mean it’s a thin watch, nor a light watch. Not the type of pocket watch that you actually wear as a pocket watch. However, that’s not the intention of creating such a masterpiece. The Patek Calibre 89, for instance, weighs 1,100 grams, has a diameter of 88.2 mm and is 41 mm thick. With such specs you just know that it’s not going to fit into your vest pocket.

The same goes for VC’s brilliant creation with 57 complications. Here are some of the basic specs of the Vacheron Constantin ref.57260:

  • Weight of the complete watch: 960 grams
  • Weight of the movement with dials and hands, but without the case: 597 grams
  • Size of case: 98 mm (diameter) by 50.55 mm (thickness)
  • Size of calibre: 71 mm (diameter) by 36 mm (thickness)
  • Number of parts: 2,800
  • Number of jewels: 242
  • Number of hands: 19 on front dial – 12 on back dial
  • Number of complications: 57

OK, try to digest that. A weight of almost a kilo and 2,800 individual parts, two thousand eight hundred parts!! ‘m in absolute awe when it comes to this piece, and the specs alone are numbers that demand respect. When it comes to finishing all the individual parts, Vacheron’s watchmakers didn’t take any short cuts. Everything, all 2,800 parts, are finished to perfection, and to the absolute highest level of Haute Horlogerie finishing.

Another factor of aesthetics is what we can see on the two dials. All hands and indicators are in three colours, polished steel, yellow gold and heat blued steel, usually matching per complication. All numerals on the various dials are in black printed Arabic numerals, except the applied Roman numerals for the hours, and a few calendar indications in red, on one of the two dials. Sure, there’s a lot going on, however, keep in mind that VC ref. 57260 features no less than 57 complications. Despite the multitude of hands and other indications, the dials remain balanced and legible. This alone is almost as impressive as creating a timepiece with 57 complications. Vacheron’s watchmakers and designers managed to keep the design clean, stylish and classy. Kudos!

The ref. 57260 was entirely developed and crafted by three of Vacheron’s watchmakers and they were entirely dedicated to this project for eight years! During this period they were also backed by the Atelier Cabinotiers special orders team, so it’s save to assume that the brand’s best watchmakers and artisans worked on this highly unique piece.

A watch like this could not have been made without the help of computer-aided calculations. It is really mind-blowing how 2,800 individual pieces are designed to fit, fully functional of course, into the 71 mm diameter of the entire calibre. All levers, bridges, gears, and numerous other parts that fit into the 98 mm case, and are able to indicate the various timing and astrological functions. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, ref. 57260 meets the demanding Hallmark of Geneva criteria, and thus bears this prestigious label of quality.

The complications – frontside

Now let’s move on to the complications. We already told you about the Hebraic perpetual calendar, so we’ll move on the other complications that are on the same dial. First off, the hours, minutes and second, which are all indicated by heat blued steel hands, displayed in a regulator style. This means that hours, minutes and seconds are not indicated by co-axial hands.

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The hours are indicated by the blue hand in the sub-dial at 12, while the blue minute hand is on the same central axis as the two retrograde rattrapante chronograph hands. The small second hand (also blue) is at the 6 o’clock position and shares the sub-dial with the Yom Kippur indicator and the Hebrew century, decade and year.

Double Retrograde Rattrapante Chronograph

Now the chronograph function is not your average chronograph. I don’t think that you expected it to be a simple chronograph, however, Vacheron comes with a retrograde rattrapante chronograph. This rattrapante chronograph with double retrograde action is unique in the world of watchmaking, so kudos to VC again. Both hands operate in unison and from the same axis, however, the two hands never actually meet but operate on two separate scales on opposing sides of the dial. In this respect, the new chronograph can perhaps be best described as a “detached” split-seconds chronograph. The elapsed minutes and hours are registered by a polished steel hand in the subdials on the 3 and 9 o’clock position: the 60-minute counter at 9 o’clock and the 12-hour counter at 3 o’clock.

Minute repeater, Grand Sonnerie, Petit Sonnerie, and Alarm with Westminster Chiming 

Above the two subs at 3 and 9 (on the actual dial), are the indications for the various chiming functions. In the right upper corner (see image below) you see the indication for the Petit Sonnerie and Grand Sonnerie, and for the options for Silent, Night, and Chiming. The indicators in the lower right of the image, shows the mode of alarm striking and the alarm power-reserve indicator.

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Selecting the Grand Sonnerie the gongs will strike the hours and the quarters at every passing quarter, while the Petit Sonnerie only strikes the full hours at the hour but only a quarter-strike without hours on the quarters. The watch has five hammers (usually chiming watches have two, and sometimes three), striking on five finely tuned steel gongs, and the chiming sequence is that of the Big Ben in London. Since the Big Ben is the clock of the Palace of Westminster, such chiming is also referred to as Westminster chiming. For those in the know, this is again a superlative among chiming watches!

The Sonnerie function can be set to Silent (SIL), Night, and Chiming (CHI).

  1. Striking: chimes in the selected Sonnerie mode
  2. Night silence: chimes will be disabled between 22:00 h and 8:00 h (this is a new function)
  3. Silence: guess this is pretty self-explanatory

The hammers and gongs perform more chiming functions, like for instance a classical minute repeater. This can be activated by moving the slide on the case-band, which is a classical way to activate a minute repeater.

Another function that uses the hammers and gongs is the alarm function. This function has its own power-reserve indication, and it allows a choice between either a traditional alarm on an additional differently tuned single gong with a single hammer (“N”) or Westminster carillon (“C”) chiming alarm in either Grande or Petite Sonnerie mode. Again, a number of superlatives in function and complexity. The alarm time is set via the winding crown and is indicated by a (yellow gold) hand, co-axial with the hour and moon’s age hand. The winding button is flush-fit and placed in the band of the case.

The complications – backside

The other dial is mainly dedicated to astronomical functions, and additionally, the second time zone with an indication for 24 world cities in the 24 major time zones. Furthermore, it gives stage to a magnificent whirlwind…. or in French: tourbillon. In this case a three-axis tourbillon in a spherical armillary cage, and it features a spherical balance spring. Oh my… superlative alert all over again!

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While a normal tourbillon is already an interesting ‘gadget’ (while beautiful, it’s functionality was designed for a pocket watch that was worn in one position), however we can’t say that it’s extremely rare. A triple axis tourbillon is rare, period. Thomas Prescher, Vianney Halter and Girard-Perregaux are a few of the names that come to mind, and in total there are less than a dozen timepieces with a three-axis tourbillon.

The cherry on top of this already magnificent cake, is the spherical balance spring. This spring doesn’t ‘breathe’ concentric in one plane. The spherical spiral ‘breathes’ spherical or cylindrical, and can only be found in tourbillons made by Montblanc and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Now on to the astronomical complications on this dial!

Astronomical functions

On the upper half of the dial is a sky chart depicting the night sky and star constellations visible from New York, the owner’s home town. Concentric around the sky chart is the retrograde date of the perpetual (Gregorian) calendar, displayed over a 180-degree arc with a grey background.

To the (lower) left and right of the sky chart are two subsidiary dials. The left one shows the day of the week, and additionally a 12-hour second-time zone dial, with a day and night indicator that is visible through a small round aperture just above (small yellow/gold round in the photo below). The aperture in between that subsidiary dial and the day/night indicator shows the 24 cities and countries and their respective time deviations from Greenwich Meantime.

The subsidiary dial on the lower right of the sky chart displays the month and week number according to the ISO 8601 business calendar system, with a numerical system which utilises 52 weeks and 7 days. There’s a lot to explain on how this ISO 8601 calendar works, however, let me suffice by referring to Wikipedia for the full explanation, and, more importantly, mentioning the fact that you probably use the week numbers for scheduling meetings with business partners.

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Surrounding the dial are three concentric astronomic scales, which are read using the central gold hand with the small sun counterweight. Going from the outer ring inwards:

  • months of the year and their respective number of days
  • year divided into Zodiac sign periods
  • four seasons are displayed on the inner concentric ring
  • the red markers are used to indicate the dates of the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices

Just above the aperture with that magnificent three-axis tourbillon, is the Equation of Time indications. This shows the discrepancy between true solar time and standard meantime, which fluctuates during the year. It can be ahead by as much as 16 minutes (around November 3rd) and behind by 14 minutes (around February 12th). Solar and meantime are equal on just four occasions each year.

Last but not least, flanking the tourbillon aperture, are two dual sectors for the time of sunrise and day length and time of sunset and night length in the user’s home city, New York.

We’re now at well over 2,500 words and I hope that the 57 complications of Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260 are clear to you. It is just so much to comprehend, however when you see the complications listed in a logical order, it all becomes more clear. This is the world’s most complicated watch and it’s truly a spectacular piece. So many complications, logically ordered, stylish and legible in design. My compliments to the watchmakers, the designers, and everyone involved, not in the last place the person who commissioned this spectacular piece. Congrats to Vacheron Constantin for setting a new benchmark for the world’s most complicated timepiece.

3 responses

  1. Fantastic.
    As compared with the caliber 89, I would say that the case size was smaller and that software assistance was much less performant in 1980.
    Anyway, an outstanding timepiece.

  2. I can hardly believe that the “Calibre 89” has at last been surpassed. I’ll add the new watch to my books on “World Record watches” and “The Most Complicated Wristwatches”.

  3. The author writes “…a three-axis tourbillon in a spherical armillary cage, and it features a spherical balance spring. Oh my… superlative alert all over again!”
    So my question is, how well does this superlatively pricey bundle of parts actually keep time? Can it match the +/- 2 sec/day advertised by Rolex? Or is it enough that it’s simply wonderful to admire in action?

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