2017 is a year firmly dedicated to technical excellence for Vacheron Constantin, which is presenting its first ever grande sonnerie wristwatch: an extremely rare occurrence in the sphere of Haute Horlogerie. This innovative interpretation of the ultimate horological complication is a paragon of user-friendliness and pure, uncluttered lines. Protected from any inadvertent handling by several ingenious security devices, its 727-part movement – striking the hours and quarters in passing – features a strike-mode selector (for the grande sonnerie and petite sonnerie) operated via the bezel and is associated with a minute repeater activated by a crown-fitted push-piece. A magnificent example of how Vacheron Constantin expresses extreme complexity through the art of simplicity.
The one-of-a-kind Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860 – the first grande sonnerie wristwatch in the history of Vacheron Constantin – presented at the SIHH 2017 embodies a two- fold technical prowess: creating a supreme complication that only a handful of virtuoso watchmakers in the world are capable of mastering, while making it both simple and secure to use for its owner. Its ultra-complex and sophisticated bi-directional manual-winding movement – brand-new Manufacture Vacheron Constantin Caliber 1860, which required 10 years of development – is equipped with innovative security systems. The latter protect its striking mechanisms, controlled by the bezel and a crown-fitted push-piece, from any detrimental mutual interference. After 500 hours of assembly performed by a single master-watchmaker, its 727 finely adjusted components interact perfectly to provide an extremely rare and sought-after combination of complications: grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie and minute repeater. Arrayed in white gold, this masterpiece of miniaturisation that can also be customised features a beautifully pure design. Its original construction means that the striking mechanism, generally placed beneath the dial, is in this instance visible on the caseback side. This creation bearing the Hallmark of Geneva continues along the trail blazed by the remarkable Reference 57260 unveiled in 2015: the world’s most complicated watch with its 57 complications and a vivid emblem of excellence according to Vacheron Constantin.
Within the Hall of Fame of technical sophistication and mechanical poetry, striking watches represent one of the rarest and most sought-after horological complication families. Admirably demonstrating a blend of demanding expertise and technical virtuosity, along with a discerning musical ear, this prestigious category comprises minute repeaters striking the hours, quarters and minutes on demand; as well as grande sonnerie and petite sonnerie mechanisms automatically striking the hours and quarters in passing or only the hours. The grande sonnerie – due to its incredible scale of miniaturisation, its technical and acoustic complexity as well as the considerable amount of energy required by its mechanism – is widely regarded as the supreme complication. It calls for several hundred components and drives the mastery of energy and mechanical complexity to the uttermost heights – and all this within a wristwatch. A ‘sizeable’ challenge, since a grande sonnerie must at all times have enough energy to strike the required number of chimes (up to 96 activations in 24 hours, meaning 912 chimes) while ensuring impeccably high-quality sound.
Simple and secure use
A grande sonnerie watch is distinguished by the extreme complexity of its mechanism comprising hundreds of meticulously fitted parts. It thus calls for informed and cautious handling on the part of its owner. So as to make the use of this grand complication model both convenient and straightforward, Vacheron Constantin has developed several original security systems. They facilitate the operation of the various watch functions, while preserving it from the risk of mutually detrimental interferences. During time-setting, no chime can be sounded (whether in passing or on demand). Conversely, when chiming is in progress – be it a repeater chime or an ‘in passing’ chime – time-setting is impossible until the watch has finished striking. Nor will any new chiming operation begin so long as another one is sounding. Meanwhile, the strike-mode security device ensures that when a change of mode is made while a chime is in progress, it will only be activated once the previous chime is complete. Finally, if the winding barrel has almost wound down and there is not enough energy for the watch to chime regularly and perfectly right the way to the end of its sequence, the striking mechanism will not be activated, whether in passing or on demand.
This same quest for simplicity governed the watch design. The pure aesthetics highlight the complex mechanism, discreetly housed in an 18K white gold 45 mm-diameter case featuring a caseband that may be customised. Engraved on the back with the inscription “Pièce Unique”, the case is adorned with finely engraved striations echoed by the knurled motif on the crown. Inspired by historical striking pocket watches from the Maison, the 18K gold silver-toned dial also exudes an aura of refined understatement, enhanced by opaline, circular-brushed or snailed finishing, as well as baton-type white gold hour-markers and hands complemented by two black oxidised pointers.