Stel­lar Mag­nif­i­cence

Revolution (Hong Kong) - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY SEAN LI

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

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