Vacheron Constantin Is the Latest Watchmaker to Insert a Timepiece Into a Rolls-Royce. Here’s a Look Inside.

If you commission a customized $20-million Rolls-Royce, it goes without saying that a luxury watch should be incorporated into the car’s control rack. Vacheron Constantin was thus commissioned by a client to create a bespoke Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon for a new Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail, delivered today. It’s the second time this month Rolls-Royce had unveiled a custom Droptail with a luxury watch on board. Last week’s La Rose Noir Droptail was unveiled, complete with an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date incorporated into the dashboard.

The value of the two custom Droptails has not been made public, but reports estimate them to be in the $20 million range.

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Rolls-Royce Droptail with Vacheron Constantin Dashboard Watch
Rolls-Royce Droptail with Vacheron Constantin Dashboard Watch

The purple-colored Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail is a two-seat roadster with a separate roof component that when installed transforms it into a coupé. The dash is made of inlaid calamander light open-pore wood, and the leather used for the interior is mauve and tan. It was made by the car company’s custom division, Coachbuild, its equivalent of Vacheron’s Les Cabinotiers Cabinotiers division, the luxury watchmaker’s bespoke department which, in 2015, turned out the Ref. 57260, the world’s most complicated watch.

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Custom Dashboard Watch for Rolls-Royce Droptail
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Custom Dashboard Watch (front and back) for Rolls-Royce Droptail

The Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon Amethyst Droptail contains caliber 1990, which incorporates two of the 57260’s most important functions: the bi-axial armillary tourbillon, with its spherical balance spring and quick-as-lightening hour and minutes retrograde display. The time display fills the upper part of the dial, leaving the lower half to display the high-tech escapement. The cylindrical balance was designed to give the tourbillon a perfectly concentric beat, and therefore improved isochronism. Vacheron filed four patents for the movement: one for the instantaneous retrograde system,  controlled by a single minutes cam that synchronizes the jump of the two hands at midnight or noon; the escapement collet, which secures the inner end of the balance-spring; the architecture of the twin tourbillon carriages, which rotate every 15 seconds to form a Maltese cross motif, Vacheron’s logo; and the diamond-coated silicon pallet-lever, which offers greater resistance to wear.

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Custom Watch
Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Custom Watch

Vacheron’s style and heritage director, Christian Selmoni, says the main challenge wasn’t the movement though—it already existed but for slight modifications, including relocating the crown to 12-o’clock and reducing the diameter to 43.8 mm—but matching the color coating on the face bridges and main plate. “The client was very attached to the color,” said Selmoni in a zoom press conference unveiling the timepiece. “We had to put a lot of effort into finding the perfect match and then finding a coating that was hard enough to take the oxidation process to apply it. We found a partner to do an NAC treatment [a galvanic coating] in a perfectly matching mauve color.” The back bridges on the movement side are finished in the same color, applied over perfectly even Côtes de Genève stripes.

Rolls-Royce Droptail with Vacheron Constantin Dashboard Watch
Rolls-Royce Droptail with Vacheron Constantin Dashboard Watch

Most of us want to make sure there are cup holders in our new cars; the Amethyst Droptail required a special holder for the onboard watch, which posed a second challenge for Vacheron. It had to be seamlessly fitted into the panel, sturdy enough to hold the watch in place, yet engineered to allow the watch to be rotated 180 degrees so to display the caseback side. It is made of stainless steel and white gold and finished to match the color of the car’s metal elements, with the gold background hand-guilloched in a sun ray pattern. The holder can be covered with a steel lid, secured with a Maltese cross-shaped lock. When the watch and holder are removed from the dashboard and placed in their box, an identical empty holder takes its place.

This level of customization is par for the course at Vacheron Constantin. Its Les Cabinotiers department was set up in 2006 with the goal of reviving the spirit of Geneva’s 18th century tradition of bespoke watchmaking. Each year, the company unveils an exclusive collection of unique creations. Since most are client commissions, they rarely become public knowledge. “We are delighted to have this rare opportunity to communicate on this one,” said Selmoni, who notably wore a tie to match the purple car and watch during the press conference.

This is Vacheron’s first modern watch designed for car installation—but the brand’s archives (which date to 1755) reveal the company was commissioned to create a watch for an automobile in 1928. When asked whether there will be more to come Selmoni says, “Why not? If we have another client who wants us to integrate a watch into a car—or a boat—we will do it. This collaboration wasn’t driven by Rolls-Royce but by the initiative of a patron. We are here to fulfill the dreams of our clients.”

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