This focus on simplicity and functionality should not, however, obscure the efforts of watchmakers to make history with the ultimate collection of complications. We are referring here to perpetual calendars with astronomical indications, as well as the category of striking watches and minute repeaters: two mechanical achievements that, when combined with a chronograph, transform a timepiece into the classic example of what watchmaking tradition refers to as a “grand complication.” And that’s not even counting tourbillons and karussels, devices linked to the regulating organ that counteract the effects of gravity on the movement’s function. They have enjoyed an overwhelming surge of popularity in recent years and are now mastered by almost every watchmaking Manufacture. To stand out in this domain, horologers must now display extraordinary creativity, such as that shown by Arnold & Son, which recently added the UTTE Skeleton to its Instrument collection: it is the thinnest skeletonized tourbillon watch on the market, with a 3.30mm-thin movement housed in an 8.34mm case. For its part, Audemars Piguet has decided to honor this complication via an unusual collection of eight original pieces in the Royal Oak and Jules Audemars lines that represent innovative interpretations in the world of ultrathin models, skeletonization and the combination of functions. The crowning glory of this collection, the Jules Audemars Tourbillon Openworked in platinum, is particularly outstanding.
Great design also demands originality, as seen in Guy Ellia’s Tourbillon Magistère II, Manufacture Royale’s Androgyne and Louis Vuitton’s Flying Tourbillon Watch, the airiest in its category. Originality and high technology working together is the hallmark of Harry Winston’s Histoire de Tourbillon saga. Chapter 7, unveiled at the beginning of 2016, showcases the ballet of two bi-axial tourbillons that evolve in space through different positions. To reconcile the functioning of these two rotating regulating organs, the caliber integrates a spherical differential in order to optimize the machine’s efficiency.
Cartier, which has achieved a remarkable technical breakthrough in mechanical haute horology over the last ten years by putting its own stamp on traditional complications, was drawn to another form of rotation that inspired the keystone of the brand’s 2016 collections, the true horological masterpiece named Rotonde de Cartier Astromystérieux Calibre 9462 MC. In Cartier’s mystery clocks, a specialty of the house at the beginning of the 20th century, the hands appeared between two sapphire crystals, as if suspended in midair, with no apparent connection to the mechanical ensemble that powered them. The Rotonde Astromystérieux pushes the prowess of this horological architecture one step further, with supplementary rotating discs serving to make the entire movement rotate around the dial center, as if weightless.
When it comes to grand complications, even though 2016 was not as fertile a year as the ones before (due to the global economic situation), it nonetheless brought its share of surprises. Among them was Patek Philippe’s Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300, which joins the Genevan Manufacture’s current collections. This timepiece, equipped with 20 complications (including five audible ones) housed inside a patented, double-faced case, dethroned the Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 6200 as Patek Philippe’s most complicated wristwatch and one of the most complicated in the world. For its 175th anniversary in 2014, the brand unveiled a collection of limited-edition commemorative watches. Among them was the Grandmaster Chime, the Manufacture’s first wristwatch with large and small strike, with just seven examples produced at this time, in entirely hand-engraved gold cases. It was exactly this model that made its appearance in 2016, equipped with a redesigned case, which was conceived for everyday use. The brand noted, “given its extreme complexity, which only allows for a very limited annual production, Ref. 6300 will remain a very rare watch.”
The Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300 is nonetheless not as rare as the Reference 57260, a unique piece unveiled by Vacheron Constantin in honor of its 260th anniversary, which is, as of this writing, the most complicated watch ever made. At the end of 2015, the Genevan Manufacture introduced it to the world: “Reference 57260, bearing the Hallmark of Geneva, is a double-dial horological masterwork of hitherto unimaginable complication and technical innovation.” We couldn’t say it better ourselves. Some convincing numbers make the case: protected by 10 patents, this timepiece comprises 57 complications, which are powered by 2,826 components for a total weight of nearly a kilogram. It took eight years of development and three watchmakers to complete this exceptional piece in the Cabinet des Cabinotiers, Vacheron Constantin’s workshop, which creates bespoke watches for the brand’s clients and collectors.
Clearly, the complication competition has just reached a new level. After Breguet’s 1827 Marie-Antoinette, a piece that included all the complications known at the time, it was the Leroy 01, completed in 1904, that long held the title of the most complicated watch in the world. That is, until the Patek Philippe Calibre 89, designed for the 150th anniversary of the company (in 1989), came along to set a new record for pocket-watches, with 33 complications and 1,728 components. The wristwatch world picked up the baton again rather quickly in 2006, when Vacheron Constantin revealed its Tour de l’Ile and the model’s 16 complications. Three years later, Franck Muller’s Eternitas Mega 4 became the most complex, with 36 “functions.” Breguet’s Grande Complication Hommage à Nicolas Hayek couldn’t quite snatch the crown in 2013, possessing only 35 complications, and neither could Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime. How long will Reference 57260 hold this much-coveted title?