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.
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
Stamp of approval
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."
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.
simplicity's sake, we'll follow the manufacture's list.
The six time-telling functions are:
Hours, minutes, seconds and average solar time (regular
The three-axis tourbillon
Tourbillon regulator with spherical balance spring
12-hour time zone, second hours and minutes time zone
24-hour city display for each time zone (an adjustable
display with a selection of cities)
Day/night indicator for 12-hour time zone
You spin me round
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.
It's a date
The second family of complications is perpetual calendar
functions. The Reference 57260 has 7 of these.
Gregorian perpetual calendar, which automatically
calculates leap years and the number of days in the month
Gregorian day name
Gregorian month name
Gregorian retrograde date (a semicircular display with a hand that snaps back to the first of the month when it reaches
Leap year and four-year cycle display
Number of the day of the week
Week of the year (numbered in multiples of 4 to 52
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.
The Hebrew calendar
There are eight complications relating to the perpetual
Hebrew perpetual calendar and 19-year cycle, which is made
up of 12 simple years, and 7 years to which an extra month is added to
align it with the sidereal year.
Hebrew day number
Hebrew month number
Hebrew secular calendar, calculated from the presumed date
of the world's creation, 3760 BC (which would make this year 5776, starting at
Hebrew century, decade and year
Age of Hebrew year (12 or 13 months)
Golden number, or indicator of the point in the Metonic
cycle (out of 19 years)
Watching the stars
Astronomical functions are a little more commonplace in
grand complications. The Reference 57260 has 9.
Seasons, equinoxes, solstices and signs of the zodiac, around
the outside of the back dial and indicated by a central gold hand with a
Star chart, at 12 o'clock on the dial, adjustable to the
watch owner's city
Hours in sidereal time, or time calculated by the position
of the Earth relative to the stars, rather than the sun (a sidereal day lasts
23 hours, 56 minutes and 41 seconds)
Minutes in sidereal time
Equation of time, a small indicator in the centre of the
dial that displays the difference between true solar time and conventional mean
Sunrise time, automatically calculated and adjustable for
the owner's city, controlled by cams connected to the perpetual calendar
Length of day
Length of night
Phases of the moon
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.
Retrograde seconds chronograph, on the right side of the rim
of the dial, inside the minutes circle
Retrograde split-seconds chronograph, on the left side of
Hours counter at 3 o'clock, outside the Metonic cycle
Minutes counter at 9 o'clock, outside the Metonic cycle
Don't be alarmed
There are seven alarm functions integrated into the
An alarm with its own gong and gradual striking
An alarm position indicator, which shows whether the alarm
is set to silent or strike
Option to choose normal alarm (a single gong struck with a
hammer) or carillon alarm (which plays the Carillon de Westminster)
An alarm mechanism, coupled with the carillon striking
Option to choose Petite Sonnerie (which strikes the hours
on the hours and quarter hours on the quarter) or Grande Sonnerie (which
strikes the hours on the hour, then on the quarter hour it strikes the hour on
one gong and the quarter on a second gong)
An indicator that shows when the alarm is set to chime
System that blocks the striking mechanism when
the alarm barrel is unwound
Sounds of Westminster
The Westminster Carillon has a range of functions unto
First, the fact that it can play at all is marvellous. It
requires five separate gongs, played with five separate hammers, playing the
carillon that is played at the Palace of Westminster's Clock Tower in London.
Minute repeater, which can be used to activate the
striking mechanism at any time. It will then sound quarters, minutes and hours
in order. For example, at 9.45 am, it will play three bars of the Carillon de
Westminster, then a number of notes indicating the
number of minutes that have passed since the last quarter, then nine notes for
the number of hours that have passed
Night silence feature, allowing the alarm to be turned off
from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
System that blocks the striking mechanism when the alarm
barrel is unwound
Indicator for Petite or Grande Sonnerie modes
Indicator for silence, striking or night mode
The remaining six complications fall under miscellaneous watch
Power reserve indicator for the movement, which shows time
remaining before the motor spring needs to be wound
Power reserve indicator for the striking train
Winding crown position indicator, allowing the winding
crown to be used to control three separate parts of the watch: the strike barrels
and movement barrels; the star chart correction and alarm setting; and the time
Dual-barrel winding system, which allows the winding crown
to wind both strike barrels and movement barrels
A secret mechanism flush with the case which, when the
pendant above the crown is pressed and turned slightly, pops out to reveal the
alarm winding crown
Vacheron Constantin hasn't revealed how many iterations of the Reference 57260 will be made, but a timepiece of this calibre is usually one-of-a-kind.