(This article by Roberta Naas first appeared in her column on Forbes.com.)
In a fusion of horology and automotive excellence, Vacheron Constantin and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars joined forces to present a unique creation: Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon. The highly complex watch is a bespoke piece that is designed to fit into the interior of a custom one-off Rolls Royce Amethyst Droptail. Both the car and the watch were created for a single collector of luxury automobiles and watches.
The pocket watch is built in stainless steel and is equipped with a bi-axial tourbillon (to compensate for errors in timekeeping due to the effects of gravity on the watch) that boasts a three-dimensional constantly rotating escapement that consists of two nested carriages rotating around two different axes to form a sphere. The watch is also equipped with a double retrograde indication of the hours and minutes in an arc formation on the top half of the watch. This means that the hour hand showcases the time from 0 to 12 and when it reaches 12, it automatically returns to 0 to start the sequence again. The same is true of the minute hand that goes from 1 to 60 and then returns and starts again.
The movement is exposed on the dial side and the backdrop is mainplate is finished in a mauve-colored NAC galvanic coating to match the leather seats of the Rolls Royce Coachbuilt car. The watch is designed to be displayed on the fascia (the decorative panels on the dashboard) of the car, which is finished in Calamander Light wood veneer. As such, it is fitted into a fully integrated, removeable holder. The teams of both of the luxury brands worked closely together to ensure a seamless integration of the watch holder into the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail’s panel.
The watch is powered by Vacheron Constantin’s hand-wound caliber 1990, which took certain technical achievements from the Ref. 57260 caliber that the brand unveiled to the world in 2015 and that is the most complicated watch in the world. The timepiece boasts a cylindrical balance spring rather than a flat spring to achieve a concentric beat, ensuring precision throughout the 58 hours of power reserve, and it is equipped with an escapement with silicon escape wheel and pallet lever with diamond pallets to reduce friction. In order for the retrograde hands to be totally accurate, they have to be light in weight. As such, Vacheron Constantin uses titanium for the hands. In total, the Caliber 1990 boasts four patents.
Vacheron Constantin also built a duplicate holder for the watch so that should the owner wish to remove the watch and the steel and white gold holder, it can be replaced with the identical empty holder so the fascia never looks unfinished. There is also a steel lid to place over the watch holder to hide the watch. The lid is fastened with a lock that resembles Vacheron Constantin’s Maltese Cross signature. The making of the holder was no easy feat, and the watchmakers even had to adapt the case of the Armillary Tourbillon so it could fit inside the holder. Instead of being 45mm, it is 43.8mm, and the crown is at 12:00 instead of 3:00 to fit the space.
According to Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s Director of Style and Heritage, “Vacheron Constantin went beyond its watchmaking expertise in designing and producing the holder. The latter had to be technical (the watch could be rotated 180° to admire the finishing on the caseback), safe (in the event of impact) and aesthetically pleasing (fitting in perfectly with the vehicle’s aesthetic codes while preserving the Vacheron Constantin identity/DNA. This is precisely what makes this type of special order so interesting. It forces us to be imaginative and to step out of our comfort zone.”
He further noted that Vacheron Constantin has not embarked on an auto-related luxury bespoke timepiece since 1928, but the brand was intrigued by the collector’s request and the opportunity to work with Rolls Royce Coachbuilt. “The two centuries-old brands share a quest for perfection that consists of constantly pushing the limits of feasibility.”