The world’s most complicated timepiece, Vacheron Constantin’s Ref. 57260, started with a collector’s request and culminated with a world record and the creation of several never-before-seen complications.
To get the real story of the development of this watch, I talked with Dominique Bernaz, the head of retail and the head of the Atelier Cabinotiers for Vacheron Constantin.
The wheels were set in motion when Juan Carlos Torres, CEO of Vacheron Constantin, decided to create the Atelier Cabinotiers, the bespoke arm of the company, back in 2007. “When we started this, I asked him for watchmakers and a workshop, and he told me that it didn’t work this way, he said that we had to start with clients,” Bernaz remembers. “I had a customer in mind for the first project, so I contacted him and his desire was to have the world’s most complicated watch.”
Ref. 57260 was in development for eight years—when Vacheron Constantin signed the contract with the customer, the company promised to deliver the timepiece in 2015. “At the time, we did a serious study of the project and we knew it would take this kind of time to deliver,” Bernaz says. “The initial brief was a little different. We had to deliver a minimum of 36 complications and the watch had to be smaller than the most complicated watch at the time on the market. From day one, the watchmakers had something else in mind. They originally wanted to include 45 or 46 complications, and then the collector came with the request for the Hebrew calendar.”
The hardest part of the design and production was . . . everything, according to Bernaz. “Nothing has been easy,” he says. “You can take each complication individually and everything was bespoke. The most difficult complication was the Hebrew calendar, because it had never been done. The other was the double retrograde chronograph. The real challenge was to have all these complications in one piece with a resulting watch that is well balanced, beautiful and elegant.
“Our objective was a complicated watch that was both beautiful and readable,” he continues. “We had to adapt the technical aspect to the aesthetic of the watch. We had a rendering of what we wanted the watch to be, then we adapted from there. It was state of mind, to make sure we keep the aesthetics in the forefront.”
Having a watch with a total of 57 complications is an incredible achievement, one that underscores and reinforces Vacheron Constantin’s place in the pantheon of high watchmaking. “A project like this spreads the word about Vacheron Constantin,” Bernaz points out. “It follows that if we can do this kind of watch, we can certainly do a three-hand watch in an excellent way. We learned a great deal during the making of this watch”
However, Bernaz is quick to point out that Vacheron is by no means done.“When I went out looking for the client in 2006, the idea was to prime the pump to get this department started,” he says. “Now the pump is working. We have many interesting projects in the pipeline. We are very happy that we did it. We had some very difficult times, we were not always sure we would be able to do it, but we did.
“The motto of our maison is ‘Do Better if Possible,’” he continues. “I think it is possible to do more than 57. When you make a watch like this, every day is filled with brainstorming, so we do have ideas. I don’t think the number of complications should be a goal. We were very happy to fulfill this client’s request, but we don’t want this to turn into a race. We are happy to say that we made the most complicated watch in the world.”
—Keith W. Strandberg