Man’s fascination with the stars and its affect on our lives have been ongoing since the dawn of civilization. But being able to track the movement of the firmaments on one’s wristwatch is a special luxury reserved for the special few. Vacheron Constantin have been at the frontiers of making watches with these astronomical displays for the longest time, and at this year’s SIHH 2017, they focused their novelties around two lines – the striking watches (we reviewed the Traditionelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon) and astronomical watches. In this article we explore one of the two astronomical pieces introduced: The Corpernicus Celestial Spheres.
SIHH 2017: Christian Selmoni, VC’s Artistic Director talks about the novelties:
The Copernican Revolution
Copernicus, seeing it was impossible to explain the motion of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that these bodies moved around the earth considered as an immovable centre, adopted the alternative, of supposing all to move round the sun.
Victor Cousin, French Philosopher (1792-1867)
Since the ancient Greeks, the model of the Solar System in widespread belief was the Ptolemaic model. In this model, the cosmos is described as the Earth being the stationary center of the universe. This belief was held until Nicolaus Copernicus shook its foundations in his publication De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543. Copernicus challenged the model by proposing what is known as the heliocentric model. In his model, the Sun is the center of the Solar System, and the Earth and planets revolve around it.This model gained popularity beginning with Copernicus’ publication, affirmed by various other contributors like Tyco Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galeli and finally with Isaac Newton who formulated the laws of universal gravitation in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687.
This is the basis of the new astronomical watch from VC. The Métiers d’Art Corpernicus Celestial Spheres
Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Corpernicus Celestial Spheres
The Corpenicus Celestial Sphere is one watch with show the heloocentric model on the dial, but in three different executions. One with a grand feu enamel technique, the second with hand engraving, and the third with sapphire glass laser and hand engraving. Each using a Métiers d’Art, and showcasing the virtuoso capabilities of the VC workshops.
The case, dial and hands
The case is a rather standard round case used in Métiers d’Art watches, in 18k white gold. Twelve stylised zodiac signs are engraved around the rim of the 43 mm-diameter bezel.
The dial is where the artistic elements that are the foundation of this watch comes together. As mentioned, three dials are offered, and each showcase a specific Métiers d’Art technique – grand feu enamelling, hand engraving and hand/laser engraving on sapphire. Each is executed beautifully.
Each dial comprises two parts. An oval center bears the Sun with a glowing hand-engraved pink gold face. And an outer disc dedicated to the three decorative craft variations. Between the two parts, a tiny elliptical grove provides space for the mechanism to display the orbit of the Earth. The Earth is a disc, slightly domed and measures 6.8mm in diameter and displays a polar view of the continents based on a Lanbert conic map projection.
The hour and minutes are read on the edge of the outer part, indicated by two arrows one for the hour and the other for the minute.
We particularly like the grand feu enamel dial.
The Solar System showing the Sun, the Earth and our Moon is based on an astronomical map of the Copernican system drawn by Andreas Cellarus. The Earth is done in champlevé Grand Feu enamel, and shows the blue oceans and geography of the continents realistically. The background, a map of the sky on a gold base is enamelled in pastel colours, punctuated by fine lines illustrating the orbit of five planets. Each of these heavenly bodies is represented by a star, mentioned by its Latin name, and two soltices. The outer part of the dial bears the 12 zodiac signs in polychrome enamel. They are formed using stencils, and finished with a quill pen and a fine brush. The dial then undergoes numerous firings up to 850°C, and smoothed with abrasive stone, lapped and polished.
The result is stunning. Details which are depicted are clear and very beautiful. The overall aesthetic is extremely pleasing.
The second dial is the hand engraved dial.
In the second dial, the aesthetic is baroque. The 12 signs of the zodiac intertwine and overlap on a white gold disc. The engraver then works in the ramolayé (pounced ornament) details, highlighting volumes in the material carved out by hand and lit up by the subtle interplay of slanting and depth effects. The flowing mane of Capricorn or the aerodynamic shape of Pieces are realistic, even when viewed under magnifying glass. In the center, the Earth is shown spinning on its own axis and orbiting the Sun engraved in flaming gold. The details are finely captured. As an example, the oceans are covered with microscopic waves, and the contrasting continents are polished to accentuate the luminosity of gold.
In the third dial is in sapphire, where the decorative techniques are more avant garde. A hand painted underdial in midnight blue is overlaid with a transparent sapphire crystal engraved on its back. .
The technique used to engrave the glass is via an innovative laser technique used to sculp the symbols. The engraver then works over them entirely by hand to accentuate the raised motifs and play with the opalescent effects of sapphire. On the front of the sapphire, the constallations are laser engraved and hilighted with SuperLuminova. This gives the effect of the glowing sky chart in the dark of the night sky. The Earth is a sapphire disc which is hand engraved to show the continents and the oceans.
The execution of the three dials are of an extremely high standard and beyond reproach.
The movement used is the VC C.2460 RT. The base movement is an automatic movement with a hand engraved rotor in 18k gold. The plates and bridges carry the standard VC finishing, which is to say they are of an excellent standard commensurate to the haute horlogerie levels the watch is pitched at.
The elliptical path that the Earth takes around the sun is the key highlight of the watch. Two complications are applicable. The first is the Earth spinning on its axis making one rotation in 24 hours, corresponding to the mean solar day. And the second is achieved by a tropical gear train in the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the Sun in 365.2121898 days (one tropical year).
The mechanism is very precise, requiring only one day correction once every 8,000 years! This degree of precision for such a complication is quite a feat.
All functions and indicators are set by the crown.
The VC Métiers d’Art Corpernicus Celestial Spheres is an amazing novelty. Not only the tribute it pays to the crafts, but also in the magnificence of the movement to display both the tropical year as well as the spinning of the earth on its own axis.
The initial thinking behind the mechamism was done as part of the VC 57260 project, to create the world’s most complicated watch. With the technical knowhow trickling down to more manageable levels. The Copernicus Celestial Spheres in Grand Feu Enamel retails at S$ 214,200, while the Hand Engraved edition is priced at S$ 162,800 and the Sapphire version at S$ 145,700. All inclusive of GST. Prices which we find remarkably responsible and reasonable for this level of maestro virtosity and technical achievement. If these watches were to be announced in SIHH 2007, we speculate that the prices would probably be double, as then the market could bear those escalated prices. Ten years on, we see more sober pricing.
As these are Métiers d’Art watches, the Corpenicus Celestial Spheres stand on their own, sans competition. And measured by the level of other Métiers d’Art works, the artistry and craftsmanship is beyond reproach. We applaud VC for making one step up from mere commercial and entry level offerings, but for making horologically significant and artistically beautiful watches for this year.
Métiers d’Art Copernicus Celestial Spheres 2460 RT Technical Specifications
7600U/000G-B212 (Grand Feu enamel)
Hallmark of Geneva certified timepieces
Only available in Vacheron Constantin Boutiques
Calibre 2460 RT
Developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin
37 mm (11’’’1/4) diameter
6.7 mm thick
Approximately 36 hours of power reserve
4 Hz (28,800 vibrations/hour)
Hours and minutes indication by peripheral hands
Earth orbit around the Sun and Earth rotation on itself
Case 18K white gold
43 mm diameter, 12.9 mm thick
Transparent sapphire crystal caseback
18K 5N gold stamped sun
B212: 22K gold, Grand Feu enamel, champlevé Grand Feu enamel Earth
B211: 18K gold, hand-engraved dial and Earth
B226: 18K gold, hand-painted dial (sky); laser engraving & handengraving
on sapphire crystal (zodiac signs); laser engraving & Super-Luminova® (constellations); hand-engraved Earth
Black Mississippiensis alligator leather with alligator leather inner shell,
hand-stitched, saddle-finish, large square scales
Buckle 18K white gold buckle
Polished half Maltese cross-shaped
Presentation box Luxury model
Accessory Delivered with a magnifying glass