Vacheron Constantin designs fascia timepiece for bespoke Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail

The single-edition Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is equipped with a bi-axial tourbillon and double retrograde display.

Vacheron Contantin's Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon was engineered to fit into the fascia of Rolls Royce Amethyst Droptail (All photos: Vacheron Constantin)

Vacheron Constantin’s Les Cabinotiers department, which specialises in crafting bespoke timepieces for clients, has yielded some of the most complex and outstanding creations in the world of horology. While some of us are still recovering from the incredible Les Cabinotiers Dual Moon Grand Complication, a spectacle boasting 11 complications assembled with no less than 774 components unveiled at Watches & Wonders earlier this year, Vacheron’s latest project with Rolls-Royce further proves that the watchmaker truly flies in rarefied air. 

The British marque’s Coachbuild programme — the automotive equivalent of haute couture — is an invitation-only service that offers individuals the opportunity to customise their Rolls-Royce from the ground up. Following the unveiling of La Rose Noire — rumoured to cost over US$30 million — the Amethyst is the second commissioned roadster to be released as part of four Rolls-Royce Droptails. Anchoring the dash of the violet vehicle is Vacheron’s Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon.   

The single-edition timepiece was created to perfectly complement the Amethyst Droptail’s elaborate interior suite, notably finished in Calamander Light open pore wood veneer. There has never been a Rolls-Royce that has this much wood bedecked on its vehicles in history. The Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is housed within a removable holder mechanism integrated into the dash panel. 


The Amethyst is one of four Rolls-Royce Droptail commissions

The client had a few requests: The timepiece had to blend seamlessly into the car and reflect its aesthetic codes, which revolved around the amethyst gem, the birthstone of the client’s beloved son; it had to be elegant and removable but meet exacting engineering standards for shock resistance and robustness; and they were interested in a display that could be an advocate of the speedometer. 

Vacheron’s watchmakers suggested the Calibre 1990, a hand-wound in-house complication that has a bi-retrograde hours and minutes display with sweep hands on top of a bi-axial armillary tourbillon. The entrancing tourbillon was named such as the interlocking circles and graduated metal discs evoke the image of the armillary planetary gear, which is part of a scientific instrument that models the celestial sphere. 

The regulator’s construction, designed to compensate for the effects of gravity on the movement, comprises two nested carriages rotating around two different axes at a speed of 60 seconds per rotation to form a sphere in perpetual motion dancing at its heart. Cylindrical balance springs also give the tourbillon a perfectly concentric beat, enhancing isochronism and precision. To facilitate winding, the crown has been deliberately oversized and positioned at 12 o’clock. There are four patents filed for the technical innovations featured in Calibre 1990, one of which includes the architecture of the tourbillon carriages, which rotates every 15 seconds to form the brand’s Maltese cross motif. 


The attention devoted to details and finishing demonstrate the meticulous care lavished on the project by the Rolls Royce Coachbuild and Vacheron Constantin teams

“In recent years we have seen a lot of new possibilities and techniques for movement coating,” says Christian Selmoni, director of style and heritage. “There is one technology, what we call NAC, which we usually use to coat our movements in a slate grey colour.” The Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface’s expressive dial is one example of this. “We used the same hard coating but in this very special tone, which is between purple and mauve.” The original shade, which matches the hue of the Amethyst Droptail’s leather seats, adorns the mainplate as well as the rear-side bridges. 

This is the first project of its kind in Vacheron’s modern history, says Selmoni, though he did note a watch was commissioned for an automobile in 1928. The Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon sustains the notion that the Swiss watchmaker operates on an entirely different playing field when it comes to bespoke watchmaking — the sort of echelon where the imaginations of the deepest pockets are brought to life.


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