Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 Watch
The Swiss Vacheron Constantin 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. The basic idea behind the Celestia was to create a watch that would be a kind of horological exploration of astronomical complications – and which would also embody not just complications as such, but also express the deeper connection between the astronomical cycles that are behind what we see in the sky, and experience on Earth.
The Vacheron Constantin Celestia presents a complete suite of astronomical complications.
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 Vacheron Constantin Men’s Watch, 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.
Despite its complexity, the Celestia is very legible and the dial doesn’t feel crowded.
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.