Yes, this really happened. Last Thursday in Geneva, Vacheron Constantin catapulted itself into the record books by showing what is now the undisputed king of mechanical watches – its 57 complication reference 57260. My colleague Jack Forster masterfully explained this incredible piece here, and our technical expert Nick Manousos tackled it here. If you’ve read those two stories, you should know everything there is to know about the 57260, right? Sure, except what it’s actually like to see this monster of horology in the metal, to hold two pounds of history in your hand, and to see the box in which it will live its life. Today, we have exclusive live photographs of the most complicated watch in the world, and I’ll tell you my own thoughts on this giant.
Ok, let’s look at ths 57260 by the numbers. 57 complications. 2,826 individual components, 242 jewels, 957 grams, 10 patents, 31 hands, 85 different prototypes, 16 kg of drawings, eight years, one client, untold millions. Some more facts? A few experts actually claim this watch has over 60 complications, but Vacheron thought “Why push it?”. Oh, and yes it has earned 10 patents, but two more are actually pending and should close within a few months. The tourbillon here is three times the size of a traditional tourbillon, but one third the weight. Of the 57 complications, a ten of them are brand new to horology. Further, this watch was built entirely by hand by three watchmakers (two of which are brothers), and it is absolutely awesome.
The 57260 features a downright amazing Judaic calendar, and a “night” alarm setting that silences the watch between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. – this is adjustable, of course, but only by one of the three men who created the watch. Though, to call it a watch is practically insulting Vacheron. This is something more, and I know this now, only after seeing the 57260 in the metal.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a huge complication guy. I like many complications on their own – a solitary tourbillon against a stark dial is beautiful. A chronograph, or even split seconds is lovely. If I were designing my own watch, I would likely place two complications together, at a max. Once you go into grand complications, and certainly mega complications, I tend to think we lose focus on what it is we are doing. Sure, I do not discredit anyone that builds a very complicated watch, it’s just not for me. So when I heard Vacheron would be building a watch with more complications than there are weeks in the year, I thought to myself “yawn.” And then I saw it.
The 57260 is just different. It’s white metal, it’s legible, and clever, and fun, and usable – in that eccentric billionaire commissioning a unique monster watch sort of way. I love it, I didn’t expect to, but I do. I will be honest in saying it is the only mega complication to come out in the last three years that I have loved. There have been others, but those were misguided to me. If you are going to tout something as a true halo project, it’s only right that it really be from the stars, in terms of complications, size, and even price. The 57260 simply nails it.
The complication list is one thing, and again I refer you to Jack’s story for a detailed look here, but for me, as a collector, it’s about how this client will live with the watch. We know for a fact he will use it. We know for a fact that it will remain set (I am told he has his own watchmakers on staff). This is why Vacheron decided to build a special box for the 57260 that is very much in line with a marine chronometer. You can see the watch placed in there, a mirror behind it to see both sides, and then when the first top is closed, the watch look like a chronometer.
The box itself is a work of art, in deep mahogony with polished accents. The owner’s name will reside in the top of the case once delivered, forever declaring to whom this masterpiece belongs. The large keyhole at front? To me, this is an excuse for the owner to keep the key with him, just a reminder of what resides at home.
There are so many little tricks hidden in 57260 – secret winding stems, the ability to choose a Westminster chime on demand, the aforementioned “night mode”, the fact that the tourbillon creates a Maltese cross every fifteen seconds – but the real power of the 57260 is what it means not only for Vacheron Constantin, but for watches in general. This watch was entirely made in-house, by three men. This includes the balance spring, a first for Vacheron. To consider that this piece could even be conceived by a solitary company is remarkable, to make it entirely in-house is more than admirable, it’s fantastic.
But, the 57260 does something more for watches in general – it puts the focus back on mechanics. Here we don’t see any digital integration, or elaborately engraved case, we just see pure mechanics solving age old problems. What the 57260 will mean for not only Vacheron but for all of watchmaking will not be seen for years to come, but consider that all great complications have served as teaching tools for the entire industry throughout history. I fully expect to see Vacheron and others take pieces of the 57260 and pull them into smaller pieces with great regularity. How do I know? Well, you see Vacheron didn’t make a single total prototype of the 57260, instead they made 85 different prototypes, each for individual complications, and often in the form of a wristwatch. Think about what that could mean, for all of us as lovers of wristwatches.
This could mean that we could see each one of these complications in a smaller timepieces, potentially even in an affordable context, in the not too distant future. That is incredibly exciting.
Imagine a platinum Vacheron wristwatch with a double retrograde split-seconds chronograph. I’d be the first in line. Imagine a Vacheron wristwatch with a sky-chart that looked like this:
So, yes, I absolutely do love the 57260, in it simple white gold case. I love that the dial is clean, and beautiful, and legible. I love that the 57260 has the absolute sickest looking movement I’ve ever seen (see here and here). I love that the watch reminds me of the great watches of last century, but what I love most is that we, as watch lovers now have every reason to believe that we are just now entering the best days of mechanical watchmaking. What has been learned over the eight years and thousands of hours of work on this one-off piece will be used by generations of watchmakers to come, and we, as consumers, have so much to be excited about. Originally posted: Vacheron Constantin 57260, The Most Complicated Watch In The World