The desire to surpass oneself is part of human nature. Mountains are climbed for no other reason than their being there. Performance records, be they athletic, machine, electronic, or anything else that is measurable, routinely fall because we learn from existing experiences and improve on the next. Watchmaking is also subject to our competitive streaks; it seems that there are often claims made of being the most accurate or complicated timepiece ever – until the next one, that is. For Vacheron Constantin, the maison will have certainly seen its fair share of achievements over its more than two and a half centuries of making nothing else than fabulous timepieces. You might think that there would be a desire to pause on occasion, but it seems that its master watchmakers are virtually tireless, from generation to generation, and that they are continually able to better themselves. Less than two years after unveiling the Reference 57260, which still lays claim to the most complicated watch ever, Vacheron Constantin takes the wraps off another amazing achievement: Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600.
You might wonder why we’re so impressed with this particular watch; after all, it has “only” 23 listed complications, whereas the Reference 57260 features more than twice as many, with 57 complications; the latter is very much a landmark achievement in its own right, one that you see very, very few of in a lifetime, even in today’s accelerated developments in the watchmaking industry. It is the epitome of classical watchmaking, harkening back to legendary timepieces of yesteryear, those that have been made famous not only by their very existence, but by the collectors who have owned them. However, we would put forward that the 57260 is, for all intents and purposes, destined for a life as a museum piece. It’s a pocket watch, but with its 98mm wide, 50.55mm thick case would be a stretch to be used comfortably in any garment.
on the other hand, the celestia astronomical is presented in a 45mm wide, 13.6mm thick case. it’s not diminutive, but it’s highly wearable by modern standards. on the wrist, it belies those dimensions, particularly if you’re already used to the larger case sizes that have been the norm of recent years. as such, it could go almost unnoticed on the fortunate owner’s wrist, should he decide to wear it on occasion. Let’s explore though the 23 complications that Vacheron constantin has, quite literally, crammed into the case, which will go a long way to explaining why this timepiece is an apt continuation for the esteemed manufacture.
as the name suggests, the Les cabinotiers celestia astronomical Grand complication 3600 turns its attention to the stars for its timekeeping functions, breaking down the way astronomy has been used as the reference for our day-to-day vision of time itself. While we live by the 24-hour day, with 365 days in a typical year, those are actually averages, devised by genial scientists to allow us to track time in a predictable fashion. the fact is, if we look at our own solar system and beyond, there are variations that, although predictable and measurable, would tremendously complicate the way we measure time in our daily lives, even with the help of today’s technologies; these variances are civil time, which is what we live by on a daily basis, but is actually an average that assumes that the earth’s orbit around the sun is at a constant speed - this isn’t the case, given that the orbit is elliptical; solar time, which you will likely have come across as the equation of time in other timepieces, which is the difference between civil time and the actual solar time based on the earth’s specific position within its yearly trip around the sun, and is as much as 14 minutes ahead or 16 minutes behind civil
time; and sidereal time, where the point of reference is a specific set of stars relative to a local meridian, which means that a sidereal 24-hour day is ever so slightly longer than a mean civil day, by about four minutes – if you really must know, a sidereal 24 hours corresponds exactly to 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds, if measured in civil time.
on the surface, the celestia astronomical shows the civil, or mean time in a very traditional manner, with the hours and minutes hands placed as we expect them to be, a moonphase at 9 o’clock, a date at 3 o’clock, and some additional indications that are linked to a calendar. the third coaxial hand shows the actual solar time; this implementation is rather unique, as it’s generally presented as a difference with mean civil time, rather than as a time display of its own. continue taking a closer look and you’ll notice some indications above the moonphase with indications which are not immediately apparent to anyone except, perhaps, to astronomers. in fact, it’s a “mareoscope,” or an indication of the tide level, which is of course dictated by the gravitational interaction between three celestial bodies, namely the sun, the earth and the Moon. take a closer look at the mareoscope and you’ll see that the relative positions of the three bodies is shown threedimensionally as well.
as we look clockwise around the front of the celestia astronomical, we come to the perpetual calendar, with the day, month, and leap year shown through apertures on the dial, while the date is made highly legible with its own subdial. Below the date subdial is another perhaps less immediately recognizable complication; it’s again linked to the celestial theme. there are, in fact, two indications; the inner part of the aperture shows the current sign of the zodiac, while the outer part shows the season, along with the solstices and equinoxes,
which are the extreme parts of the earth’s annual trip around the sun, the solstices being when daylight is at its maximum length in summer, or minimum length in winter, and the equinoxes are when day and night are of equal duration, which happens at the start of spring and autumn. the actual duration of day and night is shown in the next indicator, at 6 o’clock, with a vertical scale. this is flanked on either side by the sunrise and sunset times.
a number of other indications are presented on the back of the watch; the outer ring on the left side is the power reserve, which is a very substantial three weeks. this is achieved thanks to the inclusion of six barrels, which are linked as three by three. You would imagine that this number of indications would require a significant amount of power in order to function accurately, but it’s impressive nonetheless that Vacheron constantin has been able to build this into a fully integrated movement, cased into a watch with eminently wearable proportions. Moving inwards, the months are shown, followed by a projection of the constellations, as they would be soon from the northern hemisphere. to top it all off, a large tourbillon, with Vacheron constantin’s signature Maltese cross motif used for the cage, is visible as well.
this true masterpiece is the result of five years of work of development, two of which were spent on the design alone, amazingly completed by one dedicated master watchmaker. it’s an accomplishment that is very much more than the sum of its parts, to have been able to combine, into a fully integrated caliber – in other words, not as a modular development – 23 complications, a three-week power reserve, a design that somehow manages to clearly depict each and every one of its indications, and all achieved to the high standards that the Geneva seal dictates, both in terms of finishing and functionality, is a horological tour-de-force. Unfortunately, it will remain a very rare one, for the Les cabinotiers celestia astronomical Grand complication 3600 is a unique piece. as is tradition though with Vacheron constantin, the maison is far from resting on its laurels, and it’s fully capable and willing to embark on the next bespoke high complication that you might already be sketching in your mind, through its atelier cabinotiers, which specializes in realizing the custom timepieces that many collectors may dream of, but few ultimately can achieve.
Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600
Day Tide level indicator Month Sun, Earth, Moon conjunction, opposition and quadrature Leap year Date Running equation of time Day/night Zodiac signs Precision moon phase Seasons, solstices and equinoxes Age of the moon Sunset time Sunrise time Length of day Length of night
Indication of the ecliptic (red ellipse) Indication of the celestial equator (white ellipse) Celestial chart Celestial time hours and minutes Power reserve Tourbillon