The Swiss master watchmaker recently announced the existence of a mechanical movement with the total of 23 complications, citing this masterpiece of engineering means Vacheron Constantin luxury super watch challenges the microchip. Naming it the Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication and containing 514 components this piece still measures just under 9mm deep, while boasting a stunning array of complications such as the perpetual date, solar time, zodiac, solstices and equinoxes, tide levels, the position of the sun, and the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere.
Just to make sure no-one fails to take the piece seriously, it’s encased in 18 karat gold and selling for a nice round figure of 1 million dollars.
What’s Under The Hood?
So what’s under the hood? At first glance at the Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 Calibre, you can immediately see its complicated in every sense of the word. So what are the main features that give this beast its raison d’être and the profanely expensive price tag?
Let’s see what comes in the box baring hours, minutes, and seconds which make up the most basic timepiece.
Calendar & Moon Phase
– Aperture-type day display is between 12 o’clock and 1 o’clock
– Pointer-type date display sits at 3 o’clock.
– Aperture-type month display
– Aperture-type leap-year display sits just ahead of 2 o’clock
– Perpetual calendar
– Day/night indication is situated at 9 o’clock.
– Precision moon phase disc
– Age of the moon– the numerals and indices running up the day/night indicator track the lunar cycle
– Equation of time is tracked by the gold minutes hand. The 24-hour day is determined by an average number, this hand monitors the “true” solar time which can range from a few seconds to over 16 minutes.
– Running equation of time– Vacheron Constantin has patented a “tropical gear train”
–Sunrise time– running on UTC+1, the gold subdial at 7 o’clock runs from 4:30am to 8:30am indicating sunrise.
–Sunset time – functions same as above but goes from 4:30am to 8:30am, indicating the time of sunset.
–Length of day – the aperture at 6 o’clock has a gauge measuring the number of daylight hours in gold
–Length of night – functions like the above, but with black to indicate nighttime
–Seasons, solstices, equinoxes and zodiacal signs – the subdial at 4 o’clock here indicates Solstice and Equinoxes as well as tracking Zodialogical signs through icons.
–Tide level indicator– between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock is a subdial indicating tide levels, high or low tide.
–Sun-Earth-Moon conjunction, opposition, and quadrature is essentially a 3D rendering of the sun, earth, and moon tracking their positioning which affects the tides.
–The Celestial Chart, the same thing as a star chart which tracks the movement of the stars, constellations, and other astronomical objects. This is created from two superimposed sapphire discs.
–Celestial time hours or “sidereal hours” measure earth’s rotation just like standard or “mean” time, but varies approximately 4 minutes per day.
–Celestial time minutes
All The Other Stuff
–3 weeks of power reserve (6 barrels)
–Power reserve indication
There’s lots of information out there about these complications and for the sake of brevity this post will not dive into them, but I will explain them all in another post.
This Is The Celestia Astronomical
At its most basic, the mechanical watch is a spring. A metal coil storing power when the crown is wound and a series of gears harnessing the energy and releasing that energy even increments to spin a central wheel, oscillating to drive watch’s hands. That’s it, that’s a watch in a nutshell.
But then you can add more and more functions or complications, but that’s when it starts getting difficult and expensive. With the use of gears to slow down the mechanism, if you understand the maths and the mechanics, you can create additional wheels that turn to represent all manner of measurements from days, months, years, to phases of the moon for example.
This is where the debate about Smartwatches comes in. Their advent had some people believing the day of the mechanical watch was over, and indeed, the high-end watch market has suffered recently but this can be seen as the result of multiple factors from global economics, to fluctuating currencies and decline of the British Pound after the Brexit and the rise in the price of gold for example. Moreover, the products initially blamed for the dip such as Apple and Samsung Smartwatches themselves experienced their own struggles.
My personal view is the person who spends hundreds of dollars on a smartwatch isn’t the same person buying an expensive luxury timepiece, it just doesn’t make sense for these two distinct markets to clash in such a way.
The good news albeit from an unusual location is that the sales of luxury watches are increasing in the Asia millennial market, so the revival could just be around the corner.
How Does It Compare?
If we were simply living by the numbers there would be no beauty, just functionality. It`s easy to take things for granted when you can buy a Smartwatch or phone for pennies in the relative sense, and have all these functions at your fingertips. It’s also easy to see how the Celestia Astronomical can be seen as a rich fools toy, but to view things in this light is to make a mistake. Yes, millions of devices can do all this and more with a microchip, but the Celestia Astronomical does it with tiny handmade mechanical parts.
Yes, millions of devices can do all this and more with a microchip, but the Celestia Astronomical does it with tiny handmade mechanical parts.
Remember what Kennedy said? “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”
This is not about being ostentatious it`s not even about showing off wealth. It`s about showing off the ingenuity and boundless creativity of the master watchmaker.
Competing With the Microchip
The overly expensive Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand is really a creation to prove a point about the mechanical watch, just like the Bugatti Veyron was to the car industry. When you buy a Smartwatch you’re buying a wrist-worn computer that can amongst other things, give you the time. But of course this computer can do so much more from receiving emails and check your heart rate, but the list is almost endless with millions of downloadable free apps to choose from.
But what the Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication does, is say, “wait a minute!”. Here is a mechanical watch built by hand in minute detail using exquisite engineering and unparalleled watchmaking skills, giving you something that gives you a lot of what the modern Smartwatch can, but made by a human.
Like the Bugatti Veyron built by a mainstream car manufacturer (VW), the Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication will no doubt be a one-off, and we`ll never see anything like it again. The closest equivalent being Vacheron Constantin’s own pocket watch with 57 complications making it with the most complicated watch ever created, but if that’s the case, then kudos to Vacheron Constantin for taking the time and effort to make the point.
Vacheron Constantin maybe the market leaders in another very special way. Historically, the Luxury Watch market has been very conservative but in more thrusting times where market share is fought over, Vacheron Constantin is setting the way for other luxury brands by going online.
My Final Thought
Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand: Is it ridiculous? yes. Is it insanely expensive? yes. Is it practical? Certainly not. Is it beautiful? Unquestionable. Is this timepiece worth building? Hell yes! This is a tribute to the craft of watchmaking and the indomitable human spirit.
Full marks to Vacheron Constantin.
For a more down-to-earth approach to watch buying there are many places to look. One of my favorite super affordable watch brands that never fail to impress is the Invicta that gives you style and performance on a shoestring if that’s something that interests you just have to take a look. But if you have a dream of owning a luxury watch read my 6 affordable luxury watches article.
If you are interested in learning more about finding a luxury watch for yourself please read my discount watch store reviews and contact me with any question.
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