The Vacheron Constantin Replica Celestia is a watch we covered when it was announced by Vacheron at the 2017 SIHH, but it is, to put it mildly, a watch that rewards repeated exposure, which is what I got a couple of weeks ago when I had an opportunity to photograph it at Vacheron’s headquarters in Switzerland. The Celestia is an extremely complex watch, but it’s also somewhat unique amongst highly complicated watches – it’s the most complicated wristwatch Vacheron Constantin has ever made. While in Geneva, I had an opportunity to interview Jean-Marie Bouquin, the master watchmaker at Vacheron’s Les Cabinotiers department, and he described in detail the inspiration behind the Celestia, as well as key aspects of its design, engineering, and operation. Bouquin has been with Vacheron Constantin for six years (prior to that, he was at Christophe Claret for 11 years, as technical director) and the Celestia was his idea: to create a replica watch that “faithfully recreates what happens in the sky,” in his words.
Prior to the Celestia, Vacheron’s most complex wristwatch was the Tour de L’Ile, which was made to celebrate Vacheron’s 250th anniversary. The Tour de L’Ile had a number of astronomical complications, as well as a tourbillon, perpetual calendar, and a minute repeater. At the time it was created, in 2005, it was the most complex wristwatch in the world and even today, 12 years later, it hasn’t lost the power to impress. It was also a very large timepiece, which given the number of complications (16, by Vacheron’s count) is not surprising: 47mm in diameter and 17.8mm thick. There were a total of seven made, and for Vacheron’s 250th anniversary, the first was auctioned by Antiquorum and sold for CHF 1,876,250, which at the time was a record for any modern wristwatch. (At the same sale, the King Fouad I pocket watch, completed in 1929, sold for 3,306,250 Swiss francs, or about $2.7 million.)
The Celestia is unlike the Tour de L’Ile in having only astronomical indications, but it’s also unlike its predecessor in the comprehensiveness of the astronomical complications that it includes. Unlike many, maybe most, Grand Complication watches, because of its focus it achieves a kind of harmonious aesthetic effect you don’t often see in highly complicated watches. Wrist and pocket watches with a number of complications can sometimes seem, for all their complexity, a bit unfocused as well – as if in striving for complexity they sacrifice unity of conception. The Celestia, on the other hand, is for all its complexity, much more selective and in choosing to focus on a specific vision of time and how it’s modeled mechanically, it becomes in the end as much a philosophical statement as a watch.
The Celestia is almost totally devoid of the ornate and even slightly archaic design cues of earlier complicated Vacheron wristwatches. The dial treatment, organization of the indications, and overall general feel are, contrary to usual Swiss practice when making a complicated watch, almost modernist in feel, at least in some respects – although the displays for the complications, other than the three dimensionality of the tide display, are basically traditional in structure and presentation of information. This means better legibility, but it also means a better sense of how each of the complications relates to the others both in terms of information, and on a more abstract level, as representations of different aspects of astronomical cycles.
Though the Celestia is Vacheron’s most complicated wristwatch, it’s not the most complicated watch Vacheron Constantin has ever made – far from it. To see another take on ultra-complicated watchmaking, check out our story on the ref. 57260 pocket replica watch, which features an astonishing 57 complications.
The Tour de L’Ile watch had a number of indications on both the front and the back, with the back especially given over to a star chart. The Celestia takes a generally similar approach, and on the front of the watch, you can see indications for the perpetual calendar, time of sunrise and sunset, amount of daylight (that’s the vertical scale between the sunrise and sunset hands) and phase of the moon. There is also a somewhat hidden but quite nifty day/night indication, which I missed the first time I looked into the Celestia, about which more in a bit.
Probably the most noticeable departure from the business as usual (even by the standards of highly complicated watches) is the so-called mareoscope, which shows local high and low tides, as well as the relative position of the Earth and Moon to the Sun. Finally, there is also a Zodiac indication, as well as an indication for the equinoxes and solstices – and as well, an Equation of Time marchant (running Equation of Time) in which the Equation hand shows the number of minutes local solar time is ahead or behind of mean time, by the number of minutes it’s running ahead or behind the mean time minute hand.