There occurs a specialist selection and a delectable theme of timepieces that is very popular within the history books at Vacheron Constantin. Yes, we are talking about the retrograde complication. Represented sort of like a gauge, a retrograde complication first appeared in the 18th Century. It expresses the number values as a crescent and a hand pointer indicates the same.
In a retrograde mechanism, as the pointer reaches one extreme of the gauge, it slaps back to the other side instantly, hence the name retrograde which literally translates to ‘revert back’. This instant action is very satisfying and counts as a revered emotion within the watch community.
At the Maison of Vacheron Constantin, retrograde display watches have been specialist novelties since as early as in 1825 and often feature a complement of jumping hours as well. Today, a retrograde minute hand coupled with a jumping hours mechanism is a revered signature of horological prowess at Vacheron Constantin.
The special displays featuring jumping and retrograde mechanisms offer a delectable aside from the usual interpretation for time passage somewhat pleasing the eye and offering a nuanced approach of timekeeping expression.
A retrograde type indicator does not make a complete turn of the dial, but instead returns to its starting point after covering its entire measurement segment
The History Of Retrograde Mechanisms
Throughout history, glimpses of the retrograde complications emerge in the horological marvels such as in an 18th Century German celestial parquet clock which adorned a retrograde date. Myriad other timepieces from the era feature crescent dials, gracefully marked from 6 o’clock to 6 o’clock, embraced by the gentle sweep of retrograde hands.
A 1791 pocket watch mentioned in the pages of the Journal Suisse d’horlogerie in 1906 boasts a mesmerizing dance of retrograde date and month.
Meanwhile in Paris, the Maison Lépine unveiled a pocket watch featuring a retrograde hour hand in the last decade of the 18th Century.
It was during the dawn of the 20th century that watchmaking unshackled itself from the conventions of the pocket watch making way for unconventional displays. The enchanting retrograde mechanism particularly captured the collective imagination of the watchmakers.
The 20th Century also witnessed a glory period for the Maison of Vacheron Constantin which distinguished its offerings by stunning jumping and retrograde complications. It was actually in 1824 that Vacheron Constantin etched its name into history with its pioneering creation of the jumping hour mechanism. The zenith of retrograde mechanisms at Vacheron Constantin was observed with the charm of retrograde minutes in its Saltarello model, a timepiece which remains desirable even to this date.
The Legendary “Don Pancho”
A timepiece with a combined complication of a minute repeater, calendar indications as well as a retrograde hand was realised at the Maison of Vacheron Constant in the 1930s. Famous as “Don Pancho”, the watch from its commission to final delivery took four years. This timepiece with the Reference 36260 features a yellow gold tonneau-shaped.
The list of complications packed into this art deco wonder includes:
- Minute Repeater
- Central Retrograde Date
- Days Of Ther Week
In 2019, the “Don Pancho” timepiece went under the hammer at a Phillips auction. The auction house catalog described the timepiece as, “The historical importance of the present timepiece cannot be emphasized sufficiently. Made during an era where multi-complicated wrist watches simply did not exist, it was a technical feat and masterpiece of human genius. The combination of a minute repeater and calendar with retrograde date were never seen before in a wristwatch and we had to wait close to 60 years to see anything similar.”
The Reference 36260 Don Pancho garnered the second highest bid ever for a Vacheron Constantin wristwatch.
An Omnipresent Style Statement At Vacheron Constantin
The allure for retrograde complications at Vacheron Constantin faced an existential renewal in the 1990s and the most notable of this tradition was the Mercator watch introduced in 1994. Just three years later, the Maison distinguished itself with its limited edition of the Saltarello watch with jumping hours and retrograde minutes, a timepiece of significant collectible repute till this date.
Post the 90s revival of retrograde, the complication became consistent in modern inceptions at Vacheron Constantin and has graced the most significant offerings within their Overseas, Patrimony as well as Traditionnelle collections.
The Prominent Retrograde Complication Timepieces From Vacheron Constantin
1. Round pocket chronograph and stopwatch, Ref. Inv. 11091 – 1914
2. “Arms in the air” two-tone yellow and white gold pocket watch, bi-retrograde display, Ref. Inv. 11274 -1930
3. “Arms in the air” three-tone yellow, white, pink gold pocket watch, bi-retrograde display, Ref. Inv. 10667 -1960
4. “Mercator” wristwatch with map of Europe, Asia & Africa, Ref. Inv. 12130 -1996
5. Saltarello yellow gold wristwatch, jumping hour display and retrograde minutes (Ref. Inv. 11000) -1998
6. Wristwatch, Platinum, black dial, automatic winding (Ref. Inv. 11500) -2000
7. Platinum “Saint-Gervais” tourbillon wristwatch with perpetual calendar and power-reserve display (Ref. Inv. 11475) -2005
8. Métiers d’art Savoirs Enluminés Caper, 18K white gold, 22K gilt dial, automatic winding (Ref. Inv. 11947) -2015
At Vacheron Constantin, jumping indications and retrograde display complications have become a technical and aesthetic signature of the Manufacture. Across its 2023 collections, we witness the aesthetic charm and mechanical satisfaction of the retrograde mechanism which graces the Maison’s current timepieces as well.
The artful fusion of technical prowess and aesthetic elegance from retrograde mechanisms has carved a distinctive signature for the Maison, a signature that adorns numerous collections. During the span of September 1st to 30th, these captivating display complications shall grace the hallowed halls of the Vacheron Constantin ION Orchard boutique in Singapore, as a testament to their timeless allure.