I’m going to come right out and say it — I don’t care about how many complications the new Vacheron Constantin pocket watch ref. 57260 has, and neither should you.
The bottom line is, we all agree that the Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260 is an amazing feat of micro-mechanical engineering. It would be amazing even if it featured just one out of its various technical innovations. The thing is, whilst some people might say that its awesome quotient increases with the addition of each complication, I just don’t feel we should automatically be looking at it that way.
Now, before we go any further, let’s get this one thing straight. In several instances, it’s true that the number of complications increases relative to the technical, aesthetic and conceptual excellence of the watch. The ref. 57260 (I devoutly wish there was a snappier name for it) is one of these examples.
Implying that there is a direct causal relationship between the merit of a watch and its number of complications, however, is a terrible, terrible, non-sequitur fallacy. That’s like saying more features equals better product. (Hint: it really doesn’t.)
Stop answering the question “Why is the ref. 57260 awesome?” with anything along the lines of “Because it’s the most complicated watch in the world”.
Seriously, stop saying that shit. I mean it.
More complications don’t always make a better watch. That much at least ought to be obvious. Ask anyone with a semi-serious interest in mechanical watches, and I can guarantee you that 95 percent of the time, the thing they find most annoying about a watch is its unnecessary indications — I’m looking straight at you, extraneous simple date display that is almost never set correctly.
There are 57 complications in the ref. 57260, by Vacheron Constantin’s count. That’s great. It’s a world record. That’s not the point, though. Like so many things in life, we don’t care about the what, we care about the how; we don’t care about quantity, we care about quality.
Here’s what really matters in the ref. 57260, and here’s why we ought to care.
It is the mechanical equivalent of a sophisticated calendrical and chronometric computer programme, is exceptionally designed and it fits in your hand, assuming you are not five years old.
In every watch, there is one component which allows it to tell the time. Remove that component and you have something that is pretty much useless. This component is the balance. It oscillates in fractions of a second. From this one component, intricate families of gears radiate. Each gear family is like a complex algebraic equation that translates the x of the balance reading into the full-blown y of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, (leap and common) years.
To these basic — yes, I said basic! — gear families you can append more gears and cams. They’re sort of like additional plug-ins, that further translate x and y values into indications of independent elapsed time (chronographs), indications of different time zones (world time and GMT functions) aural playback of the time (alarms and sonneries), alternative time systems (lunar and sidereal time), variations of celestial information based on geographical location (times of sunrise and sunset, equation of time).
I could go on, but probably won’t, at least not without the fortifying support of 17-year-old Hibiki.
The incredible thing about the ref. 57260 — and this is what everyone really means when they keep harping on the number of complications — is how many of these complex equations it manages to mechanically convey with clarity, with beauty and with economy.
That’s it, really. You could have a 57-complication watch that was completely unreadable because its creators hadn’t bothered to properly plan out where the dial indications would be, based on the placement of the gears. You could have a watch that had twice the number of complications and ended up being the size of your face and needing to be wound up every five minutes.
The Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260 may not be perfect — after all, what is? — but you won’t be able to find another watch out there that’s as ferociously intelligent, majestically beautiful and precisely efficient, all at once.
It shows us that innovation is still possible in the seemingly obsolete field of mechanical watchmaking, and that there is joy and wonder to be found in it, two things that make obsolescence irrelevant.
There are a couple of things that currently preoccupy those of us who love mechanical watchmaking. The first has been around for a while — it’s the fatalistic sentiment that everything that can be created has been created within the last 600 years of technological advancement.
The ref. 57260 is the complete refutation of this idea. Exceptional features of this watch, such as its display of the complex Hebrew luni-solar calendar, its indication of the date of Judaic religious festival Yom Kippur, its Do-Not-Disturb feature that mutes the sonnerie at night, are prime examples of how much deeper we can integrate mechanical watchmaking into the cultural and circadian needs of our lives.
The second concern that a number of us have is rather more recent — the fear that smart watches and wearable technology will wipe out the things that we love.
There’s no two ways about it; the advent of technology will replace (and has already replaced) all the functional aspects of mechanical watchmaking. But that doesn’t matter for the continuation of the mechanical watch, and it has never mattered for anything that brings such levels of transcendent delight into our lives. Look at the supercar industry. Look at haute couture. Look at the restaurant industry. Look at the entire field of art and design.
Look at the calibre 3750 and tell me I’m wrong.
Through it, you experience so much more than the sum of its parts.
I’m not going to run through all the 57 complications that the ref. 57260 possesses. There are a number of articles out there that already do a great job of this, including pieces written by my esteemed friends and colleagues Jack Forster Elizabeth Doerr, Su Jia Xian and Frank Geelen.
What you should know in context is that although the ref. 57260 took eight years to materialise, its true gestation period is the 260 years since the founding of the company we now know as Vacheron Constantin in Geneva. (Hence the reference number of the watch, you see — 57 complications, and this is the 260th anniversary of the company.)
The chiming expertise of the company, its prowess in chronograph mechanisms, its profound knowledge of mechanical calendars and rotating escapements are all concentrated in this one horological colossus, and the numbers don’t tell you the least thing about it unless you know where its roots lie.
You could say that Vacheron Constantin took eight years to build the ref. 57260, and it would be true. But it would be even truer to say that it took 260 years for them to be able to build the ref. 57260 in eight years.
Think about this year’s Harmony Ultra-Thin Grande Complication Chronograph and its heart-stoppingly beautiful movement reinforced by modern engineering techniques.
Think about last year’s Maître Cabinotier Astronomica wristwatch and its jaw-dropping mechanical accomplishments.
Think about the 2013 Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731, the genre-defining minute repeater.
Think about the Traditionnelle Calibre 2755, the absolute horological reference in perpetual calendar-minute repeater-tourbillon timepieces, with a chime of such subtle power it could bring down the walls of Jericho.
Think about the last moron who told you that Vacheron Constantin was stuck in the past and couldn’t innovate, and then look at the ref. 57260 again.
Forget the complications. Forget everything. Remember only this — how does it make you feel?