Kathy S. Cunanan

Vacheron Constantin and Rolls Royce, together for a pocketwatch? Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon

The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is a bespoke watch for a car and watch enthusiast.

Ask and you shall receive. At least for those familiar with Les Cabinotiers of Vacheron Constantin. A special client has a passion for the best of all things horological, but also a love for truly unique cars. In this case the client was having Rolls Royce create a very special Coachbuild commission of an Amethyst Droptail. For such a car must come a special watch. It is named the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon reference 9880C/000A-182C. As a true collector, a true wristwatch just wouldn’t do. The piece is actually a pocket watch, and a stainless steel one at that. Which, since people will ask, is just what the owner wants. It uses a 43.8mm case that is 19.90mm thick, and the somewhat specific and rather different sizing is because it needs to fit properly, along with the holder that comes with it, into the dashboard of the car.

The watch is wonderful to see, but it definitely presented some challenges. Time-telling is done using retrograde hour and minute hands, both of which are titanium to allow the instantaneous return to zero without too much weight to ring along with it. The time telling takes the upper part of the watch, the lower half is left to give full view of the “Armillary” Tourbillon. Armillary refers to the moving sphere with a planetary gear invented by 18th century French watchmaker Antide Janvier. The design of this Tourbillon is meant to bring to mind the interlocking circles and graduated metal discs (armillas) of scientific instruments modeling the celestial sphere. In terms of technical needs, as the watch will really be sitting in one position for long periods of time, the Tourbillon function is actually quite sensible. Plus it gives something truly unique to look at in traffic. The two nested carriages rotate around two different axes at 60 seconds per rotation.

The watch doesn’t need to stay in the car of course. It comes with a holder that keeps the watch secure and in turn secures to the specially created space in the dashboard. The holder can be removed from that space as needed, and the watch can be rotated through 180 degrees to allow setting and winding (yes, it is a manual wind movement) and just looking at the gorgeous back of the movement as seen through the sapphire crystal caseback. The crown of the watch is particularly large to allow ease of that setting and winding.

If the client decides to remove the watch from the car, it has a separate case in the same wood and mauve leather so the watch still feels at home. Even the interior of the case is slightly curved to match the fascia of the vehicle. And if the watch leaves the car, an identical empty holder is there to take its place. The holder can be covered by a steel lid which has, of course, a lock shaped like a Maltese Cross to secure it.

This watch is rather unique, especially given that Vacheron Constantin has never moved into the world of instrumentation for cars or aviation like others, with one exception they found in their archives from 1928. However, the maison did create pieces that became very popular within the car and aviation worlds.

Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon


Developed and manufactured by Vacheron Constantin
Mechanical manual-winding
35.50 mm diameter, 10 mm thick
Movement power reserve: approximately 58 hours
2.5 Hz (18’000 vibrations/hour)
299 components
45 jewels
Main plate and back bridges in mauve PVD and face 
bridges with NAC treatment
Hallmark of Geneva certified timepiece

Retrograde hours and minutes
Small seconds on tourbillon
Armillary tourbillon

Stainless steel
43.8 mm diameter, 19.90 mm thick
Transparent sapphire crystal caseback

Transparent sapphire crystal dial and brass rhodium opaline


Watch holder                                             
Stainless steel and 18K white gold hand-guilloché
for the background and Maltese Cross

Presentation box & accessory                 
Les Cabinotiers special box
Unique timepiece
« Pièce unique », « Les Cabinotiers » and « AC 
» hallmark engraved on the back of the timepiece

The Maison very quickly made its mark in the creation of watches for aviation professionals and motoring enthusiasts”, said Director of Style and Heritage Christian Selmoni. “The advent of the wristwatch in the early 20th century enabled Vacheron Constantin to demonstrate its technical expertise in the production of chronographs, which have become benchmarks in sporting circles. Over the decades, these timepieces dedicated to the measurement of short periods of time have consistently proved able to adapt to the demands of contemporary life, in which sport and travel play an increasingly important role, without ever losing the characteristic elegance of these creations.”

This project could have gone a very different way, perhaps simplistic, perhaps populist. The fact that it was created as steel-case pocketwatch with an unusual display that highlights an unusual Tourbillon shows that there are still people who truly appreciate uniqueness in its highest form.


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