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NEW: Vacheron Constantin’s unique Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon designed for the Rolls-Royce Droptail

The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.

Designed for a special customer, Vacheron Constantin has also developed new patents with the Calibre 1990 for this unique timepiece.

Just a week ago, Rolls-Royce debuted its new Coachbuild commission, the Droptail, with just four models to be created. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it is essentially a customised automobile body hand-built on an existing chassis. Rolls-Royce is one of the only carmakers left that still offers coachbuilt vehicles. These custom creations take years to complete: the Rolls-Royce Sweptail was commissioned in 2013 and only completed in 2017.   

The Droptail is a two-door, two-seater grand tourer with 593 horses behind the V-12 engine, a full monocoque carbon fibre chassis, and a removable hard top. It is priced at around US$30 million and has a highly streamlined design inspired by several Rolls-Royce icons, such as the Silver Ghost Sluggard and Picadilly.   

The Rolls-Royce Droptail Amethyst, one of four coachbuilt Droptails that have been made.
The Rolls-Royce Droptail Amethyst, one of four coachbuilt Droptails that have been made.

Luxury Pairs   

What’s different about the Droptail is the minimalist approach to the dashboard, which is made of Calamander Light open-pore wood. Aside from the displays, there’s a closed panel, the left of which has operating buttons for the vehicle, and the right is an empty frame that’s up to the owner to outfit. In the very first Droptail release, the La Rose Noire, Audemars Piguet announced a unique Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date that would be produced for the owner of the vehicle. Now, Vacheron Constantin has presented a unique timepiece for the owner of the second Droptail announced, the Amethyst.   

The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers on the dashboard of the Rolls-Royce Droptail Amethyst.
The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers on the dashboard of the Rolls-Royce Droptail Amethyst.

This watch, according to the watchmaker’s Director of Style and Heritage Christian Selmoni, was produced as the Droptail was created and in close coordination with Rolls-Royce to ensure the style and aesthetics of the watch would match that of the car. And in a rare example, the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is housed in stainless steel rather than a precious metal for durability and to match the steel frame that supports the drivetrain and doors from the B-pillar forwards.   

Creating the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.
Creating the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.

The 43.5mm watch also keeps in line with the openworked dials that Vacheron Constantin released earlier this year at Watches and Wonders Geneva, as well as the retrograde displays that have been an icon of the brand since the 1920s. For adaptability, the watch is housed in a frame integrated into the dashboard but can be removed and placed elsewhere.  

The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon has a bi-retrograde display with a large double-axis tourbillon.
The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon has a bi-retrograde display with a large double-axis tourbillon.

A Sophisticated Movement   

Since the timepiece would be standing most of the time, Vacheron Constantin proposed its Armillary Tourbillon, a dual-axis tourbillon with two nested carriages that complete a one-minute rotation on different planes. Like Breguet’s original invention, this tourbillon is especially beneficial for timepieces that sit in one position by averaging out the differences in timekeeping to improve isochronism.  

In the Calibre 1990 that drives this timepiece, the Armillary Tourbillon also features a cylindrical hairspring with no terminal curves, which is again meant to deliver perfectly concentric breathing. Cylindrical hairsprings were used in marine chronometers in the past and have been adapted for wristwatches before, but seeing it in an automobile clock adds to its elegance.   

Assembling the Calibre 1990 of the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.
Assembling the Calibre 1990 of the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.

The amethyst-coloured baseplate of the watch essentially doubles as the dial, coloured in a NAC galvanic treatment and satin finishing to match the car’s details. The bridges of the movement are also worked with Genevan stripes and designed in a half-circular manner to match the semi-circle display of the retrograde timekeeper.   

The oversized tourbillon occupies nearly a full quarter of the dial, positioned at the lower half of the watch. The watchmaker has chosen a slow 2.5Hz beat rate for the Armillary Tourbillon, ideal for a large escapement. To further ensure reliability and performance, it’s also introduced a silicon escape wheel with a pallet lever, with diamond-coated pallets to minimise friction and reduce the need for lubrication. This new pallet lever has been patented by the brand; we can surely expect to see it in serially produced timepieces in the future.   

The mauve-coloured baseplate of the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon uses a NAC galvanic treatment with a satin finishing.
The mauve-coloured baseplate of the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon uses a NAC galvanic treatment with a satin finishing.

There’s also a new cam for the retrograde minutes to ensure a perfect synchronisation of the hour and minute hands when both need to jump back to zero twice a day, as well as a titanium escapement collet to secure the balance spring. What’s most fascinating about this movement is the two tourbillon carriages, which align every 15 seconds to form the motif of the Maltese cross, a perennial brand logo. We also expect these will appear in future versions of related watches.   

The detachable frame housing the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is hand-guilloched.
The detachable frame housing the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is hand-guilloched.

Framed for Style   

Even the detachable frame of the watch has been crafted with utmost detail by Vacheron Constantin. The sunray guilloché pattern on the white gold support plate is made with a rose engine and mounted on a black PVD steel inner frame with a lasered texture.   

This is a handsome timepiece that, unfortunately, will only be produced for one; however, we’re sure we will see the Calibre 1990 in the future. One challenge is to transform the movement’s thickness, which stands at 10mm; this is likely due to the size of the dual-axis tourbillon. Once that is sorted, we definitely hope to see it as a wristwatch sometime in the future. 

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Editor

Darren has been writing about, and admiring the craft of watchmaking for over a dozen years. He considers himself lucky to live in a golden age of horology, and firmly believes that the most difficult watches to design are the simplest and the most intriguing to discover.


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