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Vacheron Constantin - Safety first: Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860

Vacheron Constantin Safety first: Les Cabinotiers Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860

Vacheron Constantin presented its first-ever grande sonnerie wristwatch at the SIHH 2017.

Vacheron Constantin has been producing chiming watches since 1827, but the 260 year-old company only presented its first grande sonnerie wristwatch at the SIHH 2017. Although the project was a joint development with another brand and took a total of 10 years, the two resulting watches are totally different. As Christian Selmoni, Artistic Director at Vacheron Constantin, explains, “We wanted a very traditional grande sonnerie watch, so we don’t have a self-winding chiming barrel, for example. The main difference between the Symphonia and other grande sonnerie watches is that we have the striking work, the hammers and gongs, underneath the case back rather than underneath the dial.”

“We also wanted a very classical architecture,” he continues, “and you can see a clear resemblance to Vacheron Constantin watches of the 1940s on the dial side, with a two-tone dial and great legibility and sobriety. We wanted a very simple design and if you study the design of the case you can tell that it has been designed to show off the highly complicated movement to the very best.” The classicism also extends to the actual sound of the chimes, which Vacheron Constantin wanted to be similar to its minute repeaters. As a result, classic monobloc gongs, rather than cathedral gongs, are used.

Vacheron Constantin Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860

The watch’s operation, however, is anything but traditional. Vacheron Constantin has gone to great lengths to ensure an optimum “user interface” for the piece, as well as eradicating the niggle of the so-called “phantom quarters”, when there is a slight gap between the chiming of the hours and the minutes between 00 and 15 minutes past the hour, in the absence of a quarter chime.

Because of their complexity, older minute repeater and grande sonnerie watches could quite easily be broken if manipulated incorrectly. And if the watch was already chiming, you could still trigger another chime by pressing the slider a second time. The watch would simply stop chiming and start again. If you try this with the Vacheron Constantin Symphonia, nothing happens.

The same barrel is used to power both the automatic chimes of the grande sonnerie and the on-demand minute repeater functions, meaning that the latter can be activated simply by pressing a button in the crown. The power reserve allows for 20 hours’ worth of automatic chiming in grande sonnerie mode if the minute repeater function is not used. Once this power reserve is depleted, the striking work will simply not chime until the spring is rewound.

The discreet function selector on the bezel of the Vacheron Constantin Symphonia Grande Sonnerie 1860

If the watch is striking automatically, you cannot trigger the on-demand minute repeater function at the same time. On the other hand, if you trigger an on-demand chime that risks overlapping with the automatic chime of the grande sonnerie, the latter will be deferred until the next quarter-hour. Furthermore, you can even pull the crown out while the watch is chiming and nothing untoward will happen. The chime selector is adjusted by turning the bezel, with three options available: PS (“petite sonnerie” – chiming the hours on the hour), GS (“grande sonnerie” – chiming the hours and quarters at each quarter) or SIL for “silence”. You can even change the mode while the watch is chiming.

All these functions are powered by the manually-wound Calibre 1860, which packs 727 components into a diameter of just 37mm and a height of 9.1mm and took 500 hours for one highly experienced watchmaker to assemble. Vacheron Constantin has created a supremely elegant dial with all the necessary indications clearly visible without overburdening the look of the 45mm watch in 18-carat white gold: small seconds at 7 o’clock, power reserve indicator at 5 o’clock, strike-work power reserve at 2 o’clock with serpentine hand. Even though this watch is already unique, the case and dial can nevertheless be personalised by Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers department.

The brand

An exploration of the history of Vacheron Constantin is a voyage of discovery, revealing the excellence of age-old watchmaking. Each timepiece is the result of the creative inspiration of the watchmaker or craftsman, dedicating their knowhow to the birth of outstanding watches. The Manufacture also works within a social and environmental code of ethics, and has had Responsible Jewellery Council certification since 2012.

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