Of all the wristwatches created by Vacheron Constantin to date, the Tour de l'Ile is a study in superlatives. Calling this a "grand complication" model is a gross understatement. It is, in fact, the world's most complex watch ever made, with its original combination of 16 so-called complications that can be read off on a double-face display.
Priced at a whopping Dh6.8 million, only seven of these watches were made by Vacheron Constantin to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2005.
CEO Juan-Carlos Torres told Emirates Business: "Vacheron Constantin designers, engineers, watchmakers and craftsmen pushed all boundaries to come up with this horological wonder. In fact, each watch was handmade and it took 10 to 12 months to make just one watch."
No less than 834 parts are housed within a case measuring 47 millimetre in diameter. This accomplishment was further enhanced by the fact that this extremely complex movement was awarded the Poinçon de Genève quality hallmark. And it is well deserved as it took 10,000 hours of research and development to create the watch.
Torres said: "An incredible 10,000 hours of R&D was done to develop the watch and its movement, before it finally went into production." Observation of the hand-guilloché white-gold dial enables one to identify an impressive array of complications, starting with the sovereign finesse and graceful elegance of the 60-second tourbillon that stands out at six o'clock, while the moon phase appears in a hand-engraved gold sky at three o'clock. To its right, a smaller sub-dial with a tiny blue-hand indicates the torque of the striking-mechanism, meaning the state of winding of the minute repeater mechanism. In addition to the hour and minute hands running over a slightly off-centred minute circle, the main dial on the front side features a power-reserve display in a segment at nine o'clock, along with the applied and hand-engraved Poinçon de Genève quality hallmark. At this stage of observation, six complications are easily apparent on a balanced dial ensuring perfect legibility of the information provided, as well as perfectly mastered aesthetics.
The gold case with its hand-soldered lugs, which maintained beautiful and harmonious proportions despite its substantial content, was distinguished by a symmetrical double protuberance on either side of the bezel.
Rather than choosing the usual solution of a sliding bolt integrated within the case middle and which is used to activate the minute repeater mechanism on request, Vacheron Constantin resolutely chose the path of innovation.
The double projection on the watch bezel enables optimal winding of the mechanism by spreading the force between the thumb and the forefinger, considerably facilitating the operation.
Torres said: "Initially, the research and development of the Tour de l'Ile contained the Tourbillon on the dial (Face A), and nothing in particular behind (Face B) because of the already high complexity of the watch.
"Then, only 12 months before producing the watch [which is very short in terms of development for such a complex watch], the engineers and designers of the watch proposed to add a celestial chart of the northern hemisphere behind [Face B] to make it even more complex, interesting and remarkable."
The addition of the celestial chart meant an additional "grand complication" because it also proposed a "fast correction" that can fluctuate throughout the year, which is one of the highest to develop in terms of watchmaking.
The back is a fine match for the front, thanks to a wealth of fascinating, subtle and surprising information that is arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner. On the upper part, the dials of the perpetual calendar, arranged in a triangle, display the days of the week, the months and date from left to right. A small aperture at one o'clock signals the leap years. In the dial centre, a blue-hand sweeps over a small segment dedicated to the equation of time, meaning the observable running difference between mean or real time and that displayed on clocks and divided for practical purposes into equal sections. Two other astronomical indications are shown by hands moving over two segments at four o'clock and eight o'clock: sunrise and sunset times. Calculations have been made for the latitude and longitude of Geneva.
One then reaches the climax of this guided tour, moving towards the peak of perfection with an extremely precise sky chart – that of the northern hemisphere such as one rarely sees it, except if one happens to be looking up from the bottom of a deep chasm, or from an astronomical observatory in which the telescopes share that same virtue. This feature depicts the starlit sky in real time, meaning you might also see it in broad daylight.