A client’s request for a unique timepiece custom-made to fit into the fascia of an exquisite coachbuilt motor car has culminated in a masterpiece that combines the finest expertise of the two luxury powerhouses.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Vacheron Constantin, with their shared passion for precision, and deep expertise in artisanal intricacies, were united in this bespoke design project. The result: a single-edition Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon housed in a secure, removable holder, that fits into the fascia of a custom-built Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail, perfectly echoing the car’s interior.
Equipped with a bi-axial tourbillon and double retrograde display, the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is a masterpiece that demanded not just meeting exacting engineering standards for shock resistance and robustness, but also elegance and portability. Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers department rose to the challenge, working together with the Rolls-Royce Coachbuild design team to ensure the shapes, materials and colours of the timepiece aligned perfectly with its environment – all while upholding Vacheron Constantin’s commitment to watchmaking excellence.
The two centuries-old brands share a quest for perfection that consists of constantly pushing the limits of feasibility. This philosophy is an excellent catalyst for innovation and good taste, both technically and aesthetically.
Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s Director of Style and Heritage
The master watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin proposed the exceptional Calibre 1990 for this unique timepiece. The Calibre 1990, a hand-wound in-house complication movement incorporating certain technical developments derived from Reference 57260, is the most complicated timepiece in the world presented by the Maison in 2015. Notably influenced by the bi-retrograde display with instantaneous return of the hours and minutes, it is reminiscent of traditional automobile speedometers featuring sweep hands. This mechanism requires special attention to ensure the accuracy of the display and the resistance of the materials used – titanium is chosen for its light weight and sturdiness. The crown has been deliberately oversized to facilitate winding and ensure a 58-hour power reserve. Positioned at 12 o’clock, it harks back to vintage hand-wound chronometers, just as the minutes track recalls traditional speedometers.
This type of configuration with time-related indications on the upper part of the dial allows ample space for the mechanical ballet of the bi-axial armillary tourbillon, a nod to 18th century models of the celestial sphere. Back then, French watchmaker Antide Janvier invented a moving sphere with a planetary gear known as an armillary, evoking a visual display of interlocking circles and armillas (graduated metal discs) of the famous scientific instrument modelling the celestial sphere: Two nested carriages rotating around two different axes at a speed of 60 seconds per rotation form a sphere in perpetual motion, compensating for the effects of gravity on the smooth running of the movement. The presence of such a regulator at the heart of the mechanism fits the request for the watch’s vertical position on the car fascia.
Another fascinating detail lies in the cylindrical balance-spring coupled to the balance of this timepiece’s mechanism. Invented by Jacques-Frédéric Houriet in 1814, this type of balance-spring without terminal curves – rare in contemporary watchmaking – gives the tourbillon a perfectly concentric beat, ensuring enhanced isochronism and hence remarkable precision. To transmit the impulses corresponding to a rate of 18,000 vibrations per hour (2.5 Hz), Vacheron Constantin has developed an escapement consisting of a silicon escape-wheel and pallet-lever with diamond pallets – both materials reduce friction without the need for lubrication to enhance reliability.
Four patents have been filed for the technical innovations featured in Calibre 1990:
- Instantaneous Retrograde System: Controlled by a single minutes cam that perfectly synchronises the jump of the two hands at midnight or noon.
- Patented Escapement Collet: Made of titanium, it secures the inner end of the balance-spring. This material matches that of the regulating organ, resulting in improved regulator performance.
- Architecture of the Tourbillon Carriages: These rotate every 15 seconds to form a Maltese cross motif, the Vacheron Constantin emblem.
- Diamond-coated Silicon Pallet-lever: Offers greater resistance to wear and an optimised friction coefficient.
While the construction of complex movements like the calibre 1990 is familiar to Vacheron Constantin since 1755, having them fit the precise dimensions of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail’s fascia compartments, is new. The watch’s dedicated holder had to be both secure and removable; the case had to be adapted (43.8 mm instead of 45 mm) to fit into a spot the same size as the vehicle’s control rack, while the location and size of the crown (at 12 o’clock instead of the usual 3 o’clock) have also been modified. The watch needed to also rotate at 180° so that the reverse of the calibre could be set, wound and admired while staying safe in the event of impact.
The construct also had to be balanced with aesthetics: fitting in perfectly with the vehicle’s aesthetic codes while adhering to the Vacheron Constantin identity and DNA. The holders’ slightly curved outer frame is made of polished steel, with a bevelled steel inner frame laser-textured with a black PVD coating. The base watch is affixed to a white gold base-plate, adorned with a hand-crafted sunburst guilloché motif featuring an applied Maltese cross. The holder can be covered with a steel lid, secured with a Maltese cross-shaped lock. When the watch and holder are removed from the fascia and placed in their box, an identical empty holder takes its place.
The attention to detail is astounding. The sapphire dial of the timepiece reveals the full beauty of Calibre 1990, including a mainplate featuring a mauve-coloured NAC galvanic coating with a circular satin finish – an original shade matching the hue of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail’s leather seats. The same shade of mauve can also be found on the dial side where the bridges are sharply cut, hand-bevelled and adorned with a Côtes de Genève pattern also found on the rear-side bridges. The watch and its accessories can be kept in a display case in the same Calamander Light open pore wood and the Amethyst leather used for the interior of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail. The interior of the case itself is slightly curved like the motor car’s fascia.
The one-off Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is a result powered by the shared belief of Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers and Rolls-Royce in devoting their expertise to meeting the most demanding personalised luxury requirements. In the words of Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin’s Director of Style and Heritage, “It forces us to be imaginative and to step out of our comfort zone.”
Images courtesy of Vacheron Constantin, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.