A client with a big passion for cars and watches has come to Vacheron Constantin with a unique request. With an interest in high-end luxury watchmaking and coach-built motor cars in particular, the client has asked the Swiss watch manufacturer to create a bespoke timepiece designed to fit into the dashboard of his exquisite Rolls Royce Coachbuild.
The luxury car in particular is the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail. Rolls-Royce Coachbuild is the marque’s equivalent of Haute Couture and represents the very pinnacle of the Rolls-Royce brand. Acting as a personalisation program, the Rolls-Royce Coachbuild was created for patrons who wish to go beyond the canvas of existing Rolls-Royce models, allowing clients to showcase their personal taste with endless possibilities for individualization.
Vacheron Constantin has named this bespoke project the single-edition Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon timepiece, created to perfectly complement the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail’s interior suite. Vacheron Constantin has created the watch to be displayed on the dashboard, which has been finished in Calamander Light open-pore wood veneer. The watch has been created so that it can be removed from the dashboard, and to able to do so, is housed in an integrated yet removable holder mechanism.
The request from the client to create this bespoke piece had specific criteria, not just create a timepiece to drop straight into the dashboard. The timepiece was to blend seamlessly into the luxury car’s bespoke interior and reflect the surrounding aesthetic codes. The watch had to be elegant and meet the requirements for standard watch manufacturing such as shock resistance and robustness, all the while being able to easily remove it from the dashboard itself.
Vacheron Constant put their Les Cabinotiers in charge of this project, a department created within the watch manufacturer to handle specialized timepieces in accordance with client’s wishes. This was not the first time, however, a request like this has been carried out by Vacheron Constantin. In fact, back in 1928, a very similar request was handled by the brand. Back then the client also wanted a watch commissioned for an automobile, designed to fit within a particular Rolls Royce Coachbuild commission.
The Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon timepiece has a design similar to that of a pocket watch, where no lugs are featured, simply meaning this watch is created to be held by the hand and not worn on the wrist, and of-course, sit elegantly on the dashboard of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail. The watch comes in a 43.8mm x 19.90mm thick stainless steel case with a transparent sapphire crystal encasing the dial.
The dial features the indications of retrograde hours and minutes, small seconds on the tourbillon and the armillary tourbillon. The semi-open worked dial showcases the armillary tourbillon at the 6 o’clock position, with the retrograde hours and minutes display sitting just above, spanning from 9 to 3 o’clock. The outer ring of the dial is made from brass rhodium opaline, while the inner skeletonised part has been done in amethyst colour to match Rolls-Royce’s colour finish. The case back of the timepiece features bridges with Côtes de Genève pattern as the main view, done in the same amethyst colour as the dial side.
Vacheron Constantin states that for this latest bespoke project “Vacheron Constantin master watchmakers worked together with the Rolls-Royce Coachbuild design team to ensure the shapes, materials and colours of the timepiece were in perfect harmony with its environment – all in keeping with Vacheron Constantin’s perpetual pursuit of excellence dedicated to the customer.“
Where the real masterclass of this timepiece sits is within its movement. Vacheron Constantin has used their patented exceptional calibre 1990 movement, a hand-wound in-house movement that uses technical developments from the brand’s reference 57260 timepiece. In case you were wondering what the reference 57260 might be, it’s thought of as the most complicated timepiece in the world.
The choice to use the calibre 1990 was heavily influenced by the bi-retrograde display offered by the movement, which mimics the speedometers on motor cars with its sweeping hands. The speed at which the movement resets to the starting position is very high, which is carried out by a demanding mechanism that requires special attention so that a high level of accuracy is also maintained.
A special version of the tourbillon has been used in this timepiece as well. Known as the Armillary Tourbillon. Vacheron explains this tourbillon: “This term is a nod to the work of 18th century French watchmaker Antide Janvier who invented a moving sphere with a planetary gear known as an armillary. Visually, this tourbillon evokes the interlocking circles and armillas (graduated metal discs) of the famous scientific instrument modelling the celestial sphere.
The construction of this type of regulator – designed to compensate for the effects of gravity on the smooth running of the movement – consists of two nested carriages rotating around two different axes at a speed of 60 seconds per rotation to form a sphere in perpetual motion. Given the watch’s vertical position on the car dashboard, the presence of such a regulator at the heart of the mechanism is fully justified. The tourbillon was developed at the beginning of the 19th century precisely to remedy the isochronism problems affecting the balance-spring of pocket watches, which were also generally vertically housed in a fob.”
Vacheron Constantin’s calibre 1990 movement also uses a cylindrical balance spring when compared to the standard flat-balance spring. Using a cylindrical version without the terminal curves gives the tourbillon a perfectly concentric beat, which further ensures the isochronism and a high level of precision. For the escapement, Vacheron Constantin has used a silicon escape-wheel along with a pallet lever consisting of diamond pallets (If you want to learn more about the escapement mechanism, click here!). By using silicon and diamond materials, the total friction within the mechanism has been greatly reduced, which reduces the need for lubrication, hence improving the reliability of the movement.
A total of four patents have been filed for the calibre 1990 movement. The first patent is the instantaneous retrograde system, a patented escapement collet (a titanium-made component securing the inner end of the balance-spring). The third patent is the actual architecture of the tourbillon cages, which in a very impressive manner, rotate every 15 seconds to form a Maltese cross motif (Vacheron Constantin Emblem). The last patent is for the diamond-coated silicon pallet-lever.
For the creation of this Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon timepiece, it wasn’t just simple enough to create a timepiece with the complicated calibre 1990 movement to be in the design of a pocket watch. It also needed to fit into the dashboard. Vacheron Constantin’s mechanical engineers had to develop a brand-new holding mechanism that would meet the precise dimensions of the Rolls Royce Amethyst Droptail’s dashboard compartments.
The engineers designed this holder to be removed from its housing in the Rolls Royce, while also being able to rotate the watch 180° for setting, winding and admiring the reverse of the calibre. The curved outer frame of the holder is made from polished steel, with the inner frame being bevelled steel that’s laser-textured with black PVD coating. The base of the watch is fixed to a white-gold base-plate, which is decorated with a hand-crafted sunburst guilloché motif featuring an applied Maltese cross.
This Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon timepiece is a nod to 18th-century models of the celestial sphere, which thanks to the model’s bi-retrograde hours and minutes display, the bi-axial armillary tourbillon performs in a similar mechanical tune. The personalised finishing of the watch along with the holder meets the exceptional standards of Vacheron Constantin’s manufacturing, and now brings a timepiece directly into the modern automotive world.
- Case: 43.8 mm diameter, 19.90 mm thick
- Case Material: Stainless Steel
- Dial: Transparent sapphire crystal dial and brass rhodium opaline
- Crystal: Transparent sapphire crystal
- Water resistance: N/A
- Movement: Hand-wound calibre 1990
- Power reserve: Approx. 58 hours
- Strap: N/A
- Watch holder: Stainless steel and 18K white gold hand-guilloché for the background and Maltesse cross