The thing about lockdown is that you have a lot of time on your hands. I’ve amused myself with work, building a blog and plenty of DIY. It’s always important to find time for books though and I’m not the type of person who usually sits down to read fiction.
When my wife asked me “What would you like for Father’s day?” my response of course was the Vacheron Constantin reference 57260 – the world’s most complicated watch. It was a smidge out of budget range, so I settled for a book about it.
REFERENCE 57260 & LES CABINOTIERS
Like any watch geek I spend a lot of time watching videos and reading the watch press. I was aware of two things: Getting a custom watch made by Vacheron Constantin usually requires a minimum investment of €100,000, and that the 57260 was (and still is) the most complicated watch made. You might not have considered the model reference number initially, but the reference 57260 contains 57 complications, and celebrates 260 years of Vacheron Constantin.
With such a timepiece being so fantastical and expensive, some producers in the watch press were impressed, but yet rather blase about this timepiece. “So what?” some would say, such was the impact of this timepiece being built on their lives, or indeed, livelihoods.
What really excites me is the technical side of watchmaking, and is what I think a lot of these commentators are missing. I would always much rather read discussions or listen to podcasts (one of my current favourites is Minutia Repeater) about the different kinds of power delivery in a watch mechanism or new kinds of complications. Let there be no debate: money no object, you can’t buy a more complicated timepiece from any other maison. If this doesn’t cement Vacheron at the very top of watchmaking, nothing will.
You might have seen the plethora of Les Cabinotiers releases from Vacheron Constantin in 2019 and 2020. While many of us can only dream of owning one of these amazing creations it is important to note that the techniques developed in making these pieces can and will trickle to standard models that are within reach of mere mortals, much like the creation of brake discs for cars running in the 24 Heures du Mans. I enjoy knowing that my generation 3 Overseas 4500V shares some lineage and years of know-how with these amazing machines.
NOT JUST A “COFFEE TABLE BOOK”
Having enjoyed the book in question I originally thought that it would focus specifically on the reference 57260, but was pleasantly surprised that it’s a lot more than that.
Of course, we’re really here to stare at glorious photos of the “innards” of such a creation, but around half the book “sets the scene” for the timepiece, where it features multiple watches from the past, that were created for notable persons, in order of the number of complications that the watches contain – ultimately building up to the 57-complication watch that this book is all about.
The book really emphasises that the 57260 is a celebration of conquering time. I won’t cover all cover all of the complications in this article, but you’re going to find that this watch has chronograph complications (one of which is a “first” in watchmaking); multiple types of calendar and of course a variety of striking mechanisms. The book manages to cover a lot of the theory of these complications and as a reference book I found it really handy to have them all in one place. These explanations are especially useful because you will find some of these complications featured in watches by other manufacturers such as Breguet’s Equation of Time.
As for the explanations around the build of the 57260 and the photography of the timepiece, the reader couldn’t ask for more – it’s exceptional.
Any criticisms? What I was really hoping was more of a feature of the Les Cabinotiers department but it seems that the book leaves a certain amount of mysticism about the ladies and gentlemen that work on these special order timepieces. When one undertakes the commissioning of such a piece it is expected that the customer is in constant contact with the team to guide the creation and design. I doubt that I will ever get to be part of such a process (one can hope!) but it still remains a dream of mine to spend a day quietly sat on a sofa, watching the artists work their magic in the room.
I purchased the book from Amazon.co.uk at 25% off, and while still expensive (as all luxury things are), I’m certainly very happy to have it on my shelf.