Along with the jumping hour, which appeared in 1824, the retrograde display is a complication that has been part of the Vacheron Constantin universe for almost a century. The watch brand regularly unveils a timepiece with this elegant and spectacular time reading - like the Saltarello model, launched in 1997, with its sunburst guilloche dial and display reminiscent of the elevator floor indicators of the early 20th century.
A complex mechanism
While the majority of watches offer a classic time reading, with a hand that turns around a 360° axis, retrograde watches appeared in the 17th century, when some watchmakers let their creativity run free to propose another display mode: the hour hand runs in an arc for half the day before returning to its starting point and resuming its frantic race.
In itself, the retrograde system is not considered revolutionary in watchmaking: the general architecture of the movement remains the same. The difference only appears at the last stage - the display stage. The watch is equipped with a complex mechanism consisting of cams, rakes, pawls and springs to allow the hand to return instantly to its initial position.
A display mode for exclusive timepieces
In the 18th century, this retrograde system was used by Abraham-Louis Breguet for specific functions such as the date or the equation of time before losing its appeal over the years. It was from the mid-1930s onwards that the company distinguished itself with retrograde displays on wristwatches, at a time when watchmaking codes were experiencing a strong creative impetus.
It was at the end of the 20th century, in the 1990s, when Swiss watchmaking rediscovered the beauty of the mechanical movement, that the retrograde watch found a place of choice around the wrist. This complication - which perfectly suits the pure and elegant design of its timepieces - has become a regular source of inspiration for Vacheron Constantin.
Thus, in 2015, the Geneva watchmaker presented the most complex watch in the world, the reference 57260, with its 57 different complications - some of which are precisely displayed with the help of a retrograde mechanism, such as the date of the Gregorian calendar or the split-second chronograph. Vacheron Constantin has made a habit of reserving this display mode for its most exclusive timepieces. In its 42.5 mm case, the Patrimony retrograde date/day watch thus combines a double complication (date and day of the week) revealed by two retrograde indications. A tenth of a second is enough for the hands to return instantly to their starting point. A summary of sobriety and expertise!
Hands that are put to the test
What about the Les Cabinotiers Tourbillon Armillaire Rétrograde timepiece, which has been patented four times - including once for its instantaneous double retrograde system? The jump of the hour and minute hands, or at midnight, is perfectly synchronized and occurs with a striking speed. The tension exerted on the hands is such that they have been crafted from titanium - a light and ultra-resistant material. Proof that this complication continues to inspire the master watchmakers at Vacheron Constantin.
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