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Hands-On: Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical

by Jonathan Ho on February 21, 2017
Reviews

When Vacheron Constantin released news of their new “piece-unique” Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 watch for SIHH 2017, my first impression was that unlike the Reference 57260 most complicated pocket watch ever created, the Ref. 9720C/000G-B281, most complicated wristwatch ever created would be a tad easier to wear on a daily basis than the behemoth of a museum piece the Ref. 57260 pocket watch is.

I must confess, I totally missed the point when it comes to this stellar (pun intended) wristwatch with 23 complications. Equipped with a host of astronomical complications, the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical marries my two greatest passions – watchmaking and Star Trek geekery.

 

Smarter than your digital smartwatch – Hands-On: Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical

 

The biggest gripe we have about smartwatches (other than that they lack a mechanical soul) is that for purportedly smart devices, these digital watches aren’t that smart. For starters, they require the proximity of a smart phone (otherwise they’re about as smart as a brick). Secondly, they don’t really display a lot of “at a glance information” other than time display which any other watch can do. Finally, they aren’t really long-term talking points. Hands up anyone who has spoken about the Apple Watch beyond the first 3 months when it was originally launched? No one? We rest our case.

 

 

The case, dial, hands

The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 watch is 45mm wide and given the complexity of 23 complications, most of them pertaining to astrometric calculations, the Ref.9720C stands an impressive 13.6mm thin. This means that while there’s a lot going on the dial side and sapphire caseback, the mid case of the Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication is quite elegantly simple.

Home to the 36mm by 8.7mm calibre 3600, the case is a good home to the 514 components, 6 of them the mainspring barrels providing 3 weeks or 21 days of power reserve. The world’s oldest continuously operating manufacture has done an amazing job keeping the watch svelte and wearable. Granted, the manual winding Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical is a unique piece rather than in series production but the Geneva manufacture doesn’t treat it as such, it has designed a super complication to be eminently wearable and practical.

Speaking of practical, the dial is impressively readable for a watch measuring 45mm wide. The various counters, apertures and indications are generously and spaciously laid out across the dials. It avoids the usual overlapping that we see some brands use to overcome space constraints when dial-side real estate is restricted but none of that happens here. What results is that the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 is quite legible given that these are the functions on display:

 

Dial-side: Perpetual Calendar & Moon Phase

  1.  Day display in window form between 12 o’clock and 1 o’clock
  2. Pointer-style date display on a 3 o’clock subdial. The serpentine hand recalls vintage 40s-50s chronograph subdial pointers.
  3. Month display in window form between 1 and 2 o’clock
  4. Leap-year indication in circular aperture just after 2 o’clock
  5. Day/night indicator intuitively placed with moon phase disc
  6. Waxing and waning of the moon as measured by the 29.5 days lunar cycle

Dial-Side: Mareoscope in 10 to 12 o’clock quadrant

  1. Tide level indicator displaying the ebb and flow of tide levels and their relative depth
  2. Miniature 3D stellar cartography model of the Sun-Earth-Moon in conjunction, opposition and quadrature tracking their relative positioning as it pertains to gravitational effects on the tides. How cool is this? This is figuratively like this deck of the Starfleet USS Enterprise-D on your wrist:

Dial-side: Solar Time

  1. Gold minutes hand tracking Equation of time, displaying solar time which ranges from either a few seconds to over 16 minutes relative to the standard minutes hand.
  2. Running equation of time with a mechanical great train simulating the 365.2421898 days of a tropical year
  3. Sunrise time- indicated on the gold subdial at 7 o’clock. Running from 4:30am to 8:30am indicating sunrise.
  4. Sunset time indicated in the mirroring arc running from 4:30am to 8:30am.
  5. Windowed strip at 6 o’clock indicating Length of day with daylight hours in gold
  6. Length of night in black displaying nighttime hours

 

Dial-Side: Seasons, solstices, equinoxes and zodiac

  • The subdial at 4 o’clock indicates Solstices where the sun is either its furthest or closest in relation to the equator and Equinoxes (when night and day are equal length). The Zodiac signs are displayed by their symbols – I only recognise my own virgo, so some referencing for those unfamiliar with the motifs might be necessary.

Before we get to the movement or reverse side, it’s worthy to note that the 45 mm 18K case has the words  “Pièce unique” and “Les Cabinotiers” engraved on both sides of the mid case. While the opaline slate grey dial with applied 18K gold markers completes the look of vintage elegance.

 

The Movement/Reverse-Side: Celestial Chart

Other than the partially visible tourbillon, one cannot make any definite appraisals of the calibre 3600. The reverse of the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication serves as a secondary dial of sorts displaying a Celestial Chart.

 

  1. In essence, a Celestial Chart serves as a star chart tracking the positions of stars, constellations, and other astronomical objects. Vacheron Constantin uses two superimposed sapphire discs with the foreground disc illustrating the Milky Way and the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere relative to the months of the year. Meanwhile, two ellipses in red and in white, display the ecliptic and celestial equators.
  2. The background sapphire disc indicates Celestial time hours and minutes on a peripheral scale as well as a black ellipse which highlights the portion of the celestial chart meant for display.
  3. Celestial time hours or “sidereal hours” measure earth’s rotation just like standard or “mean” time, but varies approximately 4 minutes per day.
  4. Celestial time minutes

As mentioned, while one cannot view at the marvel of the movement in real life beyond press photos, what we understand of the calibre 3600 and how remarkable it is can be inferred from the compact size of the movement and the svelte case in which it resides. First, 3 weeks of power reserve in such a thin watch (or small movement) is quite uncommon since it usually requires large mainspring barrels in series. Though there are 6 in the Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical, the use of Bioflex alloys, a shape memory material allows for the mainsprings and the barrels which hold them to be smaller because they have high elasticity and resistance to deformation.

Meanwhile for the sheer number of astronomical calculations and computations, three of them part of complete time keeping accuracy: mean solar time, local solar time (equation of time) and sidereal time, the maison’s ability to use separate gear systems for all three basic time systems and yet retain its compact nature is nothing short of miraculous. Though the tourbillon is visible through sapphire crystals and a layer of discs, what little we can see of it is superlatively finished.

 

Concluding Thoughts

It’s a piece-unique but given the very precise Reference number, Ref. 9720C/000G-B281 with reference to case material, one can hope that the maison might release another Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical in another precious material though it’s highly unlikely as this was a custom order. Naturally, it made the Executive Editor’s wishlist at the conclusion of SIHH 2017, for such a grandiose super complication, Vacheron Constantin has taken great pains and spared no effort in creating a watch in a style and tradition of quiet elegance and civility. It’s almost as if the Les Cabinotiers Celestia was the ever graceful Belle from Beauty and the Beast to the pompous grandeur of Gaston, otherwise known as the Hublot Antikythera, a similar astronomical complication watch. Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical is estimated to be in the USD 1 million to 2 million range.

 

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