In the world of haute horlogerie (high watchmaking), there's a title to which many watchmakers would love to lay claim: The most complicated watch. Previously, that title belonged to the 2010 Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4, a wristwatch boasting a massive 36 complications, the name given to watch functions.
The title is slow to claim because these timepieces are so intricate. The Aeternitas Mega 4 took 5 years of painstaking craft, designing and assembling the watch by hand. But Swiss luxury manufacture Vacheron Constantin has taken the lead.
The newly unveiled Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch took a massive 8 years to complete, designed and assembled by hand by 3 master watchmakers, and it's a glorious masterpiece. At 57 complications, and over 2,800 components, it's the most complicated mechanical watch the world has ever seen.
It's not actually a watch you would want, or even necessarily be able to fit in your pocket.
The Reference 57260 is by necessity a chunky beast. It measures 98 millimetres (3.85 inches) in diameter and is 50.55 millimetres (2 inches) thick, about the diameter of a hockey puck, but twice as thick.
It comes in at a massive 960 grams (2.11 lb), which would definitely ruin the lines of your waistcoat.
Its case is white gold, with enamel dials accented with yellow gold on both sides, the movements inside containing 242 jewels. It runs at a frequency of 2.5Hz (18,000 vibrations per hour), with a 60-hour power reserve.
The Reference 57260 boasts the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva certification, reserved for the finest timepieces. Created in 1886 to protect Swiss watchmakers from "pretenders" to Swiss watchmaking excellence, the seal is awarded at the Geneva School of Watchmaking, where a team of inspectors will test all aspects of the watch for functional perfection. Its stamp, the Geneva coat of arms, on a timepiece means the watch has been entirely assembled, timed and cased in Geneva, and meets the hallmark's rigorous standards in both materials and construction.
The 57 complications have been divided into 10 families. The first of these is families related to the telling of time, in which the watch has six complications. It's possible Vacheron Constantin has been a little cheeky about what it classifies as a "complication."
A tourbillon, for instance, the part of a watch designed to counter the effects of gravity on the watch's movement, is generally not considered a function, but a feature.
For simplicity's sake, we'll follow the manufacture's list.
The six time-telling functions are:
A closer look at the three-axis tourbillon, displayed proudly on the back of the watch, with a jewel bearing in the centre. Jewel bearings, usually made of synthetic ruby, are used in mechanical watches because they are highly accurate, lightweight and low friction, which is important with the intricate workings of a timepiece.
Usually tourbillons rotate on a single axis. The three-axis tourbillon eliminates gravitational errors in all positions, which in turn makes the watch more accurate.
The tourbillon is contained within a lightweight aluminium cage, which incorporates the Vacheron Constantin Maltese Cross logo. The cross appears in its entirety every 15 seconds.
That's one sexy balance spring. In most watches, the balance spring, which regulates the component that controls the speed of the hands (you can see a video of this here), is a flat coil. In the Reference 57260, space isn't really as much of concern, so Vacheron Constantin has made the balance spring a sphere.
This, the company says, helps eliminate variations caused by the discharge in the balance spring.
When a watch with a flat coil balance spring is fully wound, the balance wheel oscillates with a stronger swing. As the power reserve runs down, the oscillations grow weaker as the distance the balance wheel travels grows shorter. The spherical balance spring, which is also harder to make, produces the most even oscillations as the watch winds down.
The second family of complications is perpetual calendar functions. The Reference 57260 has 7 of these.
In addition to the Gregorian calendar, the Reference 57260 also contains a family of complications related to a perpetual Hebrew calendar, the very first timepiece to do so.
The Hebrew calendar operates over a 19-year cycle, which works out almost exactly to be a multiple of the solar year and lunar month. 19 solar years equals almost exactly 235 lunar months. This is called the Metonic cycle, and the reason it has never been included in a timepiece before is because it's very difficult to calculate and incorporate into the watch movement. Its inclusion in the Reference 57260 is a feat of technical genius.
There are eight complications relating to the perpetual Hebrew calendar.
Astronomical functions are a little more commonplace in grand complications. The Reference 57260 has 9.
The lunar calendar, in the middle of the dial at 12 o'clock, is precisely calculated to display the phase of the moon to a cycle of 29.5306667 days. The moon's actual cycle is a tiny fraction shorter at 29.5305882 days, which means that, every 1,027 years and 108 days, the Reference 57260 needs to make a moon phase cycle correction of one day.
The most sacred day in the Hebrew calendar is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It falls on the 10th day of the 7th month. The Reference 57260 calculates and displays the date of Yom Kippur with a retrograde hand at 6 o'clock on the front dial.
The front dial has a number of retrograde displays that perform chronograph functions and can be used simultaneously.
There are seven alarm functions integrated into the Reference 57260.
The Westminster Carillon has a range of functions unto itself.
The remaining six complications fall under miscellaneous watch functions