Vacheron Constantin’s mechanical masterpiece is the world’s first user-controlled dual-frequency watch and has a 65-day power reserve. It’s also a symbol of modern watchmaking
It would be overly simplistic to single out one champion watch from this year’s SIHH, but a month after the curtain fell on the Geneva watch show, reflections suggest it would be hard to push Vacheron Constantin’s into second place in a run-off for best in show.
Why? Because it’s the world’s first user-controlled dual-frequency watch. That may not sound that interesting, but as we’ll see, it has some significant benefits for owners, and it points to the future of watchmaking. Vacheron is a leader after all, and where it goes others will follow.
A watchmaking first
The headline is the Twin Beat technology – this watch operates at two independent frequencies, selected by pressing a button at 8 o’clock that switches between frequencies of 5hz (36,000vph) and 1.2hz (8,640vph), respectively Active and Standby modes. In the former, the watch will run for around four days, a decent enough power reserve. But in the latter, that same reserve extends to up to 65 days. That’s more than two months.
This becomes all the more significant when the watch’s complication comes into play – its perpetual calendar. Owners of quantième perpétuel watches, or perpetual calendars, will know they are not the easiest to live with. Leave a QP to one side for a few days and, of course, it will stop. Leave it for a week, two weeks, a month or more, and when you return to it, it will require some complex adjustment. Bringing the day, date, month and moon phase (depending on the design) back in sync is a bind, usually performed by pushing awkward correctors secreted into the watch case with a small (and easily mislaid) tool supplied with the watch. Get it wrong, and your watch will have to go back to its maker.
If the watch is switched back into Active mode at any point during those 65 Standby days, it’ll pick up where it left off, with the calendar indications up to date.
One barrel, 65 days
To achieve this, Vacheron changed conventional movement anatomy and gave its Calibre 3610 two balances, one for each frequency. The requirements of the Standby balance were so acute, a new hairspring was created. Only one can be in operation at a time, and the switch from one to the other is instantaneous.
Perhaps the real genius of this development is that it runs off a single barrel. Previous watches we’ve seen with gargantuan power reserves – Hublot’s 50-day MP-05 LaFerrari comes to mind – carried multiple barrels in sequence, meaning the watch had to be enormous to contain them. Vacheron’s watch gives little of its power cell’s capacity away. The platinum case is 42mm wide and 12.3mm thick, a tad weighty by Vacheron’s slender standards, but otherwise normal.
That case is paired with a dial design that does far less to downplay the significance of the technology inside it. While the case’s proportions mean it’s relatively modest on the wrist, the Standby power reserve gauge is printed in eye-catching red on the oversized power reserve front and centre at 12 o’clock, meaning it’s not as mild as the Genevan house’s codes might have allowed another time. The perpetual calendar’s indications are limited to date, month and leap year, both on misty fixed discs designed to give some of the watch’s inner workings an airing.
Which begs one question
Taking all this into account, why doesn’t the watch simply run off the slower frequency all the time? The answer is that watches running at slower frequencies are more susceptible to outside forces. Bangs, knocks, even the movement of your arm – they can all affect rate. Higher frequency watches are far more robust, which is why most modern watches run at 4hz, or 28,800vph.
The future of watchmaking?
No doubt, this is an arresting watchmaking development. But what’s every bit as interesting about the Twin Beat is what it says about the industry’s current direction of travel. While there are few signs of new complications in the mainstream, or any evidence consumers are hankering after nebulous case forms or evolutions on the analogue or digital methods of reading the time, there’s clear indication we want watches that do the things we love better.
And this means that watches, no matter how poetic, are becoming more practical and easier to use. Montblanc’s Heritage Perpetual Calendar, adjustable through the crown and with a lock to prevent accidental damage, is another example from this year. As relevant are the growing number of brands, such as Rolex and Ulysse Nardin, which offer five-year warranties and longer servicing intervals on their watches. As time goes by, technologies such as those found in the Twin Beat will filter down. Which can only be a good thing.