Vacheron constantin hits all the right notes with its latest ultra-exclusiVe chiming timepieces.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Ultra-thin minute repeater “A Romantic Note”.

Pop quiz: What do some of the greatest music albums, such as those by the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Adele, have in common with the latest unique timepieces created by Vacheron Constantin? Answer: They were all recorded at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios in London. Well, in a manner of speaking.

A partner of Vacheron Constantin since 2018, Abbey Road Studios has for the first time recorded the “sonic prints” – or unique sounds – of its latest one-off, chiming timepieces.

Part of the brand’s bespoke offerings known as Les Cabinotiers, they were presented in Singapore last November, to Vacheron Constantin’s top international clients and selected local as well as regional media.

The theme of this Les Cabinotiers collection was La Musique du Temps, or the Music of Time. Explaining the significance of recording these chiming timepieces – most of which are minute repeaters, which indicate the time by sounding the hours, quarters and minutes – the brand’s style and heritage director Christian Selmoni shared: “The acoustics at Abbey Road Studios are phenomenal; sound reproduction is very clear and pure. With these recordings, we can measure audio variations and experiment to see how we can improve the sound. Also, when these watches come back to us for servicing, the recordings help us to make sure they sound the same as before.”

The future owners of these watches would definitely want their beautiful chimes to remain unchanged. At the media presentation, The Peak got up close with timepieces such as the Les Cabinotiers Minute Repeater Perpetual Calendar, an elegant timepiece that will not need an adjustment until 2100, and produces mellifluous, pleasingly resonant chimes at the push of a slider.

Clad in one of his trademark double-breasted suits, Selmoni said: “The theme, La Musique du Temps, made sense for us, because striking watches and repeaters are a great know-how of Vacheron Constantin.” Indeed, the first mention of a chiming watch in the manufacture’s archives is dated 1806 – way before any of its closest rivals today had even come into existence, mind you.

Supreme savoir faire

The brand did not just stop at demonstrating its acoustic expertise. Sold to a client just days earlier – which explained why it was tightly wrapped in clear plastic when we saw it – the Symphonia Grande Sonnerie is an elaborate timepiece that houses a grande and petite sonnerie movement with a minute repeater mechanism.

These relatively rare timepieces, which sound the hours and quarters automatically – before each quarter in grande sonnerie mode, and only during the hours in petite sonnerie mode – are exceptionally complex and challenging to produce, and Vacheron Constantin is one of a handful of manufactures that makes them.

Going beyond the musical theme, the 275-year-old brand also used the occasion to display its know-how in traditional, handexecuted artistic techniques, from enamelling to engraving. The pink-gold case of the Symphonia Grande Sonnerie, for instance, is decorated with a bas-relief engraving depicting Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony that’s set against a background of engraved olive leaves.

Custom challenges

While some Les Cabinotiers watches are commissioned by clients before they are even produced, many are created by the customisation division first and then presented to VIP customers for sale.

The former is not usually shown to the media, out of respect to the clients. However, in 2015, there was one notable exception to this discreet tradition: the Ref. 57260, a mechanical pocket watch with a record-breaking 57 complications. Taking eight years to realise, it was commissioned by a collector who challenged the manufacture to create the world’s most complex watch – and this important horological milestone has, unsurprisingly, been shown off to clients and media at international events.

But it’s not just the ultra-complex blockbusters that make an impact. Among the 2019 crop, a pair of ultra-slim, his and hers minute repeaters stand out with the faceted ruby hour markers that punctuate their otherwise minimalist grand feu enamel dials. Nodding in agreement when we point out that it is not a style typical of the brand today, Selmoni notes: “This is also the purpose of Les Cabinotiers – you should be able to discover watches that we normally wouldn’t do.”

Within limits, of course. Asked whether there are any commissions that he would reject, Selmoni muses, “Erotic watches are not in line with our values – they are, shall we say, gimmicky and rude. But we’ve never had such requests.” 

My Reading Room
Faceted ruby hour markers enliven this minute repeater.
My Reading Room
Engravings on the case sides of the Symphonia Grande Sonnerie.