TOUR DE L’ILE : THE WORLD’S MOST COMPLICATED WRISTWATCH FROM VACHERON CONSTANTIN
Nothing less than creating the world’s most complex wrist watch could have been expected from Vacheron Constantin in this year of its 250th anniversary.
Named in reference to one of the historical sites of Vacheron Constantin located next to the current Maison Vacheron Constantin
on the Quai de l’Ile this true feat of horological craftsmanship is housed in the special case designed for all the anniversary pieces with channelled bezels, redesigned Maltese Cross symbol crowns and distinctive and absolutely gorgeous lugs. I know that it may seem disproportionate to talk about the lugs when standing before the world’s most complicated wristwatch, but one thing that I have come to appreciate and truly admire from Vacheron Constantin is their different lug designs and this one is no exception. Their shape can only be attained by hand finish and many long hours of painstaking shaving and polishing is required for each individual lug!
(special 250th anniversary lug design)
Back to our masterpiece. Research and development for the Tour de l’Ile started in early 2000 resulting in the hand wind calibre 2750 featuring 834 parts, and an assembly which can take up to 5 months! To house the 16 complications Vacheron chose to have a 2 sided display in a 47mm rose gold case.
As a side note the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon features 686 parts and 12 complications.
For a watch with 16 complications and 11 hands the Tour de l’Ile is surprisingly an extremely legible timepiece.
The superb white gold dial features the exclusive guillochage that can be found only on the anniversary pieces, furthermore the aesthetic exclusivity is enhanced by the hands inspired from a model dating from 1926 and which also can uniquely be found in the anniversary models. Finally a secret signature, which can be only seen with a loupe, is engraved on the dial at 12 o’clock representing the anniversary date: 1755-2005.
Let’s start with the gorgeous tourbillon whose oversized cage in form of the Maltese Cross stands out at 6 o’clock, a hand engraved moonphase (it takes about 1 week to engrave each moon face…and there are two per disc!) is placed at 3. To its left, a smaller subdial with a small blued hand indicates the torque of the striking-mechanism, meaning the state of winding of the minute repeater mechanism. In addition to the hour and minute hands running over a slightly off-centred minute circle (divided in 5 minute increments, the number 45 has been replaced by 250 at 9 o’clock as a subtle wink to VC’s venerable age !) as a the main dial on the front side features a power-reserve display in a segment at 9 o’clock (58 hour power reserve), along with the applied and hand-engraved Geneva quality hallmark and a second time zone indicator at 11.
(moonphase and couple de sonnerie)
(note the 250 indication next to the power reserve display)
To avoid having an extra protuberance in an already massive case for the repeater slide the designers at Vacheron Constantin placed symmetrical double, slightly raised triggers on either side of the bezel which enables optimal winding of the mechanism by spreading equal force between the thumb and the forefinger. In my opinion Vacheron Constantin has the nicest sounding repeaters in the market and this one is no exception. A loud, crisp and sweet chime reached my ears when the slide was operated!
(Note the slides on the bezel and the new Maltese Cross design exclusive to the 250th anniversary pieces)
The back dial has a different guillochage than the front side. In fact each piece that will leave the VC ateliers will have a different guillochage motif on the back dial, making each watch different from the other.
The indications in the back are arranged in a truly aesthetically pleasing manner in an array of circles and semi circles. An executive from the watch industry (not from Richemont) once told me that the advantage that VC had over many brands was the fact that they had managed to keep their “Latin” (meaning Mediterranean) influences in their designs and this truly sets them apart…and he is proven right.
On the upper part, the dials of the perpetual calendar, arranged in a triangle, display the days of the week, the months and the date from left to right. A small aperture at 1 o’clock signals the leap years. In the dial centre, a blued hand sweeps over a small segment dedicated to the equation of time, meaning the observable running difference between mean or real time and that displayed on clocks. Two other astronomical indications are shown by hands moving over two segments at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock: sunrise and sunset times. Calculations have been made for the latitude and longitude of Geneva.
(Equation of time indicator)
For the romantics amongst us is featured an extremely precise sky chart made of adonised gold: that of the Northern hemisphere such as can be seen from an observatory. This complication thus depicts the starlit sky as well as indicating the sidereal time, meaning as you might also see it in broad daylight.
This astounding masterpiece will only be produced in 7 pieces, one will be kept for the Vacheron Constantin private collection and number 1 (a unique piece with black dial) will be sold at the VC thematic auction to be conducted by Antiquorum in Geneva on April 3rd 2005. The remaining 5 will only be available at the Vacheron Constantin boutique in Geneva (VC hopes to deliver the last Tour de l’Ile in 2007)
What can one say before such a masterpiece? Words here are futile and unnecessary, all I can do is applaud the horological feat and the successful design of this true work of art. After 250 years of existence it looks as though Vacheron Constantin has found a second youth and the Tour de l’Ile may just as well be the first stone of many great things to come.
Calibre 2750 – 834 parts – Over 10,000 hours of R&D
Indications & functions : hours and minutes
seconds at 6 o’clock
repetition of the quarters and minutes on request
second time zone
phases of the moon
age of the moon
torque of the striking mechanism
- leap years
perpetual equation of time
Other technical characteristics:
Energy: mechanical, hand-winding
Regulating organs: Breguet overcoil balance-spring, balance with screws
Frequency : 2,5Hz (18,000 vph)
Power reserve: 58 hours
Jewelling: 38 jewels
Winding stem: 2 positions
Adjustment of the second time zone and moon phase: using 2 pushpieces housed in the case
Adjustment of the perpetual calendar: using 3 pushpieces housed in the case
Adjustment of the sidereal disc: using the crown and a lockable pushbutton
Caging diameter: 35.40mm
Total diameter: 36.0mm
Total thickness: 11.25mm
Material: 18-carat 750 pink gold
Diameter and thickness: 47mm, 17.8mm
Inter-horn width: 23mm at the strap attachment
Shape and construction : round, 3 parts. Bezel fitted with 2 catches used to activate the striking mechanism by rotating to the right. Sky chart correction system by rotating the crown
Case-back: secured by a snap-in system
Crystals: sapphire, glareproofed on the inner face, mounted on a joint
Finishing: polished case, fine knurling on the bezel and case-back
Water resistance: dust-resistant.
Dial material: 18-carat gold
Description of front dial: light silvered finishing, hand-guilloché “250th anniversary” motif
Description of back dial: light silvered finishing, unique individual hand-guilloché motif, 3 appliques in rhodium-plated 18-carat gold
Hours and minutes: in 18-carat pink gold, fan-shaped, inspired by a 1926 vintage model
Seconds: in 18-carat pink gold, baton-shaped, on tourbillon carriage
Subdials: in blued steel, dagger-shaped.
STRAP & BUCKLE
Strap : hand-sewn alligator leather with a silky satin finish
Buckle: pin buckle, 18-carat pink gold (5N)