The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers department is where some of the firm’s most elevated watchmaking happens, and where the company’s top watchmakers and artisans are occupied with two basic activities: taking commissions and requests for one-of-a-kind and bespoke pieces (one of the most famous of which is the caliber 57260, which we covered in-depth on its launch, and which contains, by Vacheron’s count, 57 complications, several of which are unique to the watch) and also with coming up with new ideas, both for mechanisms and designs. Ahead of SIHH 2019, Vacheron Constantin has announced two new Les Cabinotiers unique pieces, one of which you see here: the Grand Complication Phoenix, which takes as its mechanical engine one of Vacheron’s most complicated movements.
The movement is Vacheron’s caliber 2755, which in addition to showing the time also includes a minute repeater, a tourbillon, and a perpetual calendar. In addition, there are a number of astronomical indications, including the Equation of Time, sunrise and sunset times, a sky chart with sidereal hours and minutes (sidereal time, you’ll recall, is based on a day defined by the transit of a star rather than of the Sun) the age and phase of the Moon, the signs of the zodiac, and the seasons.
The regular production version of the caliber 2755 (if you can speak of anything so highly complex and finely made as “regular”) is in the Traditionnelle Collection and as the name might lead you to think, it’s indeed very traditional in appearance – in terms of its design, the Traditionnelle Caliber 2755 is drawn from the same playbook as watches as diverse as the Graves Patek Super-Complication, the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication, and of course, from Vacheron’s own history, the highly complicated pocket watch the firm completed for Egypt’s King Farouk in 1946. On the reasonable notion that someone desiring such a complex mechanism might under some circumstances also prefer a case whose ornamentation was equal to the complexity of the movement, Les Cabinotiers have created the Grand Complication Phoenix, with a case deeply and richly engraved with a phoenix motif.
There are probably as many personal philosophies with respect to how to handle the design of a highly complex watch as there are potential clients (or maybe more; to say that the Caliber 2755 requires rather more gold than my own purse currently holds is to say nothing at all but I’m still happy to offer opinions). There is certainly a good deal to be said for austerity – after all, a highly complex watch already has so much going on visually, that any additional ornamentation runs the risk of being too much of a good thing.
In this instance, however, I’m inclined to go with the notion that more is more, not less. A complete suite of astronomical complications (in which I’d include the perpetual calendar, which after all needs to exist because the period of the Earth’s rotation on its axis and the period of its orbit around the Sun are an irrational ratio) is already putting a capital P in Poetic and the fact that in this case, a more or less complete inventory of the night sky as seen from Earth, plus the ups and downs of the Sun and changing face of the Moon, are also traveling along with a minute repeater, does rather make for a mechanism that calls out for something equally poetically evocative to call home.
The legend of the phoenix is a very ancient one, and seems to have originated in Ancient Egypt; in the 5th century BC, Herodotus wrote with some skepticism about what was already apparently a very old story. In its original form the phoenix seems to have been a solar deity, concerned with creation and regeneration and as such, it’s a most appropriate motif for a watch that contains such a complete set of astronomical indications. (The mythical bird known in China as the fenghuang has some similarities to the phoenix as well – it’s sometimes referred to as the Chinese phoenix, although there are significant differences as well between the legends of the fenghuang and phoenix, which arose independently).
The engraving is extremely richly detailed, with the phoenix depicted in very deep bas-relief engraving on the pink gold case. A very dramatic, statement-piece wristwatch, it’s a magnificent example of traditional decorative case engraving (one of the hallmarks of high-end Swiss and Genevan watchmaking) wedded to extremely challenging complicated watchmaking.
Brand: Vacheron Constantin
Model: Les Cabinotiers Grand Complication Phoenix
Reference Number: 9700C/003R-B187
Case Material: 18k pink gold
Dial Color: Slate grey opaline
Indexes: Applied pink gold hour markers
Strap/Bracelet: Brown alligator strap
Caliber: 2755 BOSS
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds via one-minute tourbillon; Equation of Time, perpetual calendar, star chart, sidereal time, zodiac, age and phase of the Moon, sunrise and sunset
Power Reserve: 58 hours
Winding: Hand-wound; ebony-wood winding box provided
Frequency: 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph)
Pricing & Availability
Price: Not available but presumably appropriate to the complexity and elaborateness of decoration of the watch
Limited Edition: Unique piece
See more at VacheronConstantin.com.