The Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860 byVacheron Constantin demonstrates that the brand is undoubtedly part of the top tier in the so-called watchmaking pyramid. The top tier comprises A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, and it is defined principally by the price, prestige and complexity of their timepieces. At SIHH in January 2017, the Geneva watch fair, Vacheron Constantin gave no indication of the price of this watch, but it is without doubt astronomical. A one-off piece, made to commission, a watch that took ten years to develop. Its 727 components and 74 jewels took 500 hours – about three months – to assemble by a single watchmaker. It is exceptional for the brand because it is their first Grande Sonnerie wristwatch. In addition to the Grande Sonnerie and Petite Sonnerie functions, it is also a minute repeater, striking the time on demand when the pusher in the crown is pressed. The watch is hand-wound, with a 72-hour power reserve, and 20 hours reserve for the striking functions. There are two barrels, one for time functions, one powering the striking mechanism.
Classic dial design
The watch contrasts the extreme complexity of the movement with a very simple case and dial. The bezel rotates through 30° and is used to select the strike mode, between grande sonnerie, in which the watch strikes hours and quarters, petite sonnerie, striking just the hours at the top of the hour, and silence. A metal tooth on the bezel lines up against the three abbreviations on the caseband, PS, GS, SIL. The dial, inspired by Vacheron Constantin’s historic striking pocket watches, has baton hour markers, white gold hour and minute hands, and black hands for the two power reserve indicators, one with a wavy profile for the striking functions. The case is in 18K white gold, 45 mm in diameter, 15.1 mm thick.
The watch is powered by the Vacheron Constantin Calibre 1860. It incorporates security systems that protect the watch against inadvertent mishandling, and the various situations that can beset a minute repeater. For example, when you are adjusting the time, chiming systems are deactivated. A new chiming operation cannot start while another set of chimes is still sounding. If you change mode while the watch is chiming, the new mode will take effect only when the chimes have finished. If there is not enough energy in the barrel to complete a set of chimes, the striking mechanism will not be activated.
Two barrels wound separately from the crown
The complex movement is 37 mm in diameter and 9.1 mm thick. It is integrated and not modular, which increases complexity but makes it possible to reduce the thickness of the movement. The two barrels are both wound from the crown: winding clockwise charges the movement, and winding counter-clockwise charges the striking mechanism.
Traditional minute repeater construction
This is a very refined minute repeater movement. There are no “phantom quarters”: most minute repeaters have a brief pause between the hours and the minutes if there are no quarters to strike, while this movement eliminates that pause. It is wholly classical, based on architecture that dates back to the 19th century, with its complex racks, feeler spindles and snails that transfer the time indications to the striking mechanism, and the so-called surprise jumper-spring which ensures accuracy in striking even at those moments when ambiguity could be possible, such as at the end of a quarter or an hour. The striking mechanism is positioned on the back of the movement and so is visible through the caseback.
Sound volume, who knows?
The watch has a black alligator strap with a white gold folding clasp. It is delivered in a presentation box that includes a resonating watch holder that amplifies the sound of the chimes. How loud is it? I didn’t hear it at the presentation in January.
Price and reference
The Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860 by Vacheron Constantin is reputed to cost about $1 million. It is reference 9200E/000G-B099, and is certified with the Hallmark of Geneva. Though it is described as a unique piece, certain phrases in the press release, such as the possibility of customizing the caseband, suggest that if someone wants to order another, they wouldn’t say no.