For many collectors, a love of horology is accompanied by a passion for automobiles. The latest unique creation to arise from Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers division — which creates bespoke creations for clients — reaffirms this.
Commissioned by a client with a taste for fine watchmaking and coach-built cars, the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon was designed to complement and fit into the fascia — or dashboard — of a bespoke Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail.
Equipped with Vacheron Constantin’s manually wound Calibre 1990, the timepiece features a bi-retrograde hour and minute display, as well as an armillary tourbillon. Both are reinterpretations of features introduced with the brand’s 57-complication blockbuster timepiece from 2015, Ref. 57260.
In the Armillary Tourbillon, the retrograde time displays are found at the top of the timepiece — the hands for the hours and the minutes travel along the same arc, and jump back to 0 at midnight/noon and at the end of each hour, respectively. As Christian Selmoni, the brand’s director of style and heritage, shared during a recent online media presentation, the concept is inspired by motorcar speedometers.
Positioned at 6 o’clock, the armillary tourbillon is an outsized bi-axial tourbillon that pays tribute to a planetary scientific instrument invented by 18th-century French watchmaker Antide Janvier. It’s pretty impressive to look at: Two nested carriages rotate on two different axes at 60 seconds per rotation, forming a constantly moving sphere.
And of course, there’s the matter of aesthetics. Visible through the sapphire dial of the timepiece, the Calibre 1990 has a mainplate featuring a mauve NAC galvanic coating with a circular satin finish. The purple hue perfectly matches that of the car’s leather seats. It’s an of-the-moment palette that is actually inspired by the colour of amethyst, the birthstone of the client’s son. The same colour accents the movement bridges on the back.
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It wasn’t just the timepiece itself that took plenty of work. As the press notes for the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon explain, creating ultra-complex calibres and timepieces is nothing new to Vacheron Constantin, considering the brand has been at it since 1755. Fitting it inside a car, though — that was something different (although Selmoni points out that company archives reveal a watch commissioned for a car in 1928).
The holder itself also had to be specially developed to fit into the Amethyst Droptail’s fascia compartment. This holder can be removed from its housing, while a special mechanism allows the watch to be rotated 180 degrees so the user can set it, wind it — or simply admire the movement within.
The holder itself is finished as carefully as the timepiece: Its outer frame is made of polished steel, while the inner frame is bevelled and laser-textured, and finished with a black PVD coating. Its white-gold baseplate is decorated with a hand-executed sunburst guilloche motif.
Noting that his team had to go beyond its watchmaking expertise to create a holder that had certain technical features, would be safe in the event of an impact, and also made to a high level of aesthetics that complemented both the vehicle’s and Vacheron Constantin’s codes, Selmoni concludes, “This is what makes this type of special order so interesting. It forces us to be imaginative and to step out of our comfort zone.”