This watch is the most devastatingly complex piece of mechanical watchmaking to grace the modern age. To use a metaphor that conveniently relates watch movements to human brains, this watch is pretty much the Stephen Hawking of horology. Which is not to say that it writes definitive reference texts about theoretical watchmaking, or that it talks through a voice synthesiser, or that one day an Oscar-winning film starring Eddie Redmayne will be made about the Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260 — the metaphor kinda breaks down there. But you know what I mean.
The “57 complications” statistic gets mentioned a lot, and with good reason, because it’s the most number of complications we know of in a watch, and that’s incredibly badass. That’s not the reason why the ref. 57260 got my pick, though. The number doesn’t mean anything without context. The thing about the 57 complications is only cool because of the way they’ve been assembled.
Complicated watches tend to be on the large side — I think we can take this as a given. They increase disproportionately in size as the number of complications mount up, because adding complications is a delicate balancing act with multiple variables of uncertain parameters and behaviour.
A little over a year ago I was speaking with Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who leads the department of movement creation at Cartier (which already sounds rather magnificent, but trust me, it still doesn’t even begin to convey how important a role she has played in our industry as a whole). She told me that when it comes to highly complicated watches, increasing the complication count by one effectively doubles the difficulty level of building a successful watch.
According to this fairly terrifying progression, a watch with 57 complications is actually 257 (or, to give the number its full expression, 144115188075855872) times harder to make than a time-only watch. We are officially in the realm of ridiculous numbers now, so obviously the above is not a hard and fast rule. It does, however, give you a good idea of how insanely optimistic, determined, experienced and talented you have to be to even consider making such a watch.
I actually feel bad calling the ref. 57260 a watch. It’s more accurately described as a mechanical computer. I mean, how can something the size of my palm tell me anything about the common lunar and solar period, as the ref. 57260 does with its indication of the Metonic cycle? How is it possible that it packs a fully displayed perpetual calendar, multi-axis tourbillon, a bunch of astronomical indications, a barrage of chiming functions and a unique chronograph mechanism into something the size of a Big Mac? (What special sauce are they serving in the Vacheron Constantin manufacture cafeteria that nourishes such watchmakers?) How did all that stuff even get in there? See also: car full of clowns, TARDIS, Doraemon’s pocket, every single gaming character inventory ever.
What’s important is that they did it. They built the horological colossus of the century, of the millennia, possibly of all time.
Getting to know the Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260 compelled me to dredge up long-forgotten mathematical mental processes and spend far too much time on Wikipedia. This might be someone’s idea of a stressful time, but I like things that stress me out in this way, because I’m weird like that. Remember all those times you sat in class wondering when you’d ever have to use logarithms, or astronomical knowledge, or the principles of physics, or an understanding of wave forms in real life? Well, this is it.