Questions to Christian Selmoni, Director of Style and Heritage at Vacheron Constantin about the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon designed exclusively for Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail that brought two leading brands together, Rolls Royce Motor Cars and Vacheron Constantin, for a unique bespoke design project.
Why are there hardly any Vacheron Constantin fascia watches for the automotive world?
It is true that, contrary to other Swiss watchmakers, Vacheron Constantin has not designed measuring instruments intended for aircraft cockpits or car fascia– with one exception recorded in our archives for the year 1928. On the other hand, the Maison very quickly made its mark in the creation of watches for aviation professionals and motoring enthusiasts. The advent of the wristwatch in the early 20th century enabled Vacheron Constantin to demonstrate its technical expertise in the production of chronographs, which have become benchmarks in sporting circles. Over the decades, these timepieces dedicated to the measurement of short periods of time have consistently proved able to adapt to the demands of contemporary life, in which sport and travel play an increasingly important role, without ever losing the characteristic elegance of these creations. The oldest Vacheron Constantin wrist chronograph – a gold monopusher model with a minutes counter – dates back to 1917. I could also mention the development by Albert Pellaton, a then associate of the Maison: namely a portable high-frequency precision device (72,000 vibrations per hour) designed for sports timing. This device was used for one of the many world water speed records set by Sir Malcolm Campbell on Lake Hallwil in September 1938. While it was admittedly not a fascia instrument, the principle is pretty similar.
What were the major challenges for Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon?
Above all, it was a question of adapting Calibre 1990 calibre – unveiled in 2016 and developed by the same watchmakers behind the world’s most complicated watch, Reference 57260 – to the customer’s requirements and the technical particularities of a fascia watch. For this single-edition timepiece, it was therefore necessary to develop a dedicated holder that had to be both secure and removable, as well as to conceptualise finishes worthy of High Watchmaking to show it off to its best advantage. In this case that meant polishing with PVD treatment and hand guilloché. 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. The location and size of the crown (at 12 o’clock instead of the usual 3 o’clock) have also been modified.
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.
Will this project be followed by others of the same type?
Created in 2006, Vacheron Constantin’s Cabinotiers department aims to revive the special spirit of Geneva’s 18th century cabinotiers by perpetuating the tradition of bespoke watchmaking. Each year, this department unveils an exclusive collection of single-edition creations. These are either created by Vacheron Constantin itself – for example on a specific theme as was the case in recent years with “Le Temps Céleste” or “Les Royaumes Aquatiques” – or made to order for clients. The latter kind of timepieces rarely become public knowledge, for obvious reasons of discretion desired by the customer. This is why we are delighted to be able to communicate on this Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon timepiece, designed exclusively for the patron of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail commission. As to whether this model will be followed by others of the same type, it is obviously impossible to predict future requests from lovers of personalised watchmaking. We can however safely state that will be delighted to respond to any such commissions.