Vacheron Constantin Designed an Exclusive Armillary Tourbillon for the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail

Vacheron Constantin teams up with esteemed British luxury house, Rolls-Royce, to forge a one-of-a-kind horological masterpiece — the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.

The objective was clear: To design a timepiece that would mirror the luxury, elegance, and bespoke nature of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail. But not just any timepiece — one that had to adhere to stringent engineering standards, ensuring it could withstand the rigors of the road.

The partnership brings about a unique Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon timepiece where the finesse of craftsmanship is illuminated in the details. Through the large sapphire crystal dome, what lies in full view is the Calibre 1990 (a self-winding movement with 58 hours of power reserve), with a mauve-colored NAC galvanic coating that mirrors the hue of the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail’s leather seats. Housed in a removable and secure holder that fits into the motor car’s fascia, this mechanism allows the watch to be rotated through 180° for setting, winding, and admiring the caliber’s reverse. Here, the meticulously hand-beveled bridges adorned with a Côtes de Genève pattern display the purple shade in all its grandeur.

Now, Rolls-Royce is no stranger to such custom projects. In 2021, the luxury automobile maker unveiled a coachbuilt ‘Boat Tail’, which included the creation of unique dashboard clocks — a pair of ‘his and hers’ made by Bovet. While Vacheron Constantin’s history reveals a watch commissioned for an automobile in 1928, the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon sets a new precedent in the modern era, fitting seamlessly into the unique Rolls-Royce Coachbuild commission.

The Armillary Tourbillon

The heart of the movement lies an intricate complication. This innovative construction is an homage to Antide Janvier, the 18th-century French watchmaker who introduced the concept of a planetary gear known as an armillary. Echoing the armillas and interlocking circles of the celestial sphere, this tourbillon is a visual symphony of form and function. Operating in perpetual motion, the two nested carriages rotate around different axes at a pace of 60 seconds per rotation, while naturally addressing the challenges posed by the vertical placement of the timepiece on a car dashboard.

The dial comes alive with a flurry of activity, from the snapping bi-retrograde hands to the dynamic spectacle of the armillary tourbillon. This tourbillon, equipped with a spherical balance spring, is elegantly structured to perpetually rotate on two axes, as exhibited underneath a sapphire crystal dome (9 o’clock). While an anomaly in today’s watchmaking landscape, the unique shape of the spring ensures its development remains perfectly concentric, thereby preserving the isochronism of the balance wheel.

Crafted from a lightweight aluminum alloy, the tourbillon carriage embeds Vacheron Constantin’s iconic Maltese Cross emblem, which forms up every 15 seconds as the tourbillon rotates — albeit witnessed every 30 seconds through a sapphire crystal opening on the side of the case.

Vacheron Constantin debuted the armillary tourbillon in 2016, in the creation of the Maître Cabinotier Retrograde Armillary Tourbillon. This mechanical wonder, devised by three master watchmakers from the company’s Atelier Cabinotiers workshops, took eight years to develop and was presented to mark the maison’s 260th anniversary. As Vacheron Constantin has described, it’s a remake of two of the Ref. 57260’s complications — the double retrograde indications and the armillary tourbillon — in a contemporary guise. We broke down the makings of the mechanism in an archived video we kept in here.

The Spirit of Bespoke Watchmaking

We wouldn’t bank on you to anticipate a reappearance of the complication anytime soon. As addressed by Christian Selmoni, Director of Style and Heritage at Vacheron Constantin, “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. 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 personalized watchmaking. We can however safely state that we will be delighted to respond to any such commissions.”

Tech Specs: Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon

Reference: 9880C/000A-182C
Movement: Manufacture Vacheron Constantin manual-winding Calibre 1990; 58-hour power reserve
Functions: Retrograde hours and minutes; Small seconds on tourbillon; Armillary tourbillon
Case: 43.8mm; Stainless steel; Watch holder in stainless steel and 18K white gold hand-guilloché for the background and Maltese cross
Dial: Transparent sapphire crystal dial and brass rhodium opaline; Titanium hands
Production: Pièce unique


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