The Westminster Sonnerie Johannes Vermeer by Vacheron Constantin is a lesson in fine watchmaking

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The Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Westminster Sonnerie Hommage à Johannes Vermeer offers a rare glimpse of what can be accomplished at the height of fine watchmaking. The bespoke studio of the Swiss watchmaking elite, Les Cabinotiers, is dedicated to making unique bespoke pieces that the public rarely sees; they exist only for the pleasure of the collectors who order them. This is one of the exceptions – the client agreed to let Vacheron share the details – and it represents an example of what is possible in fine watchmaking if you can afford it (the price is top secret but certainly in the six figures) and time – it took eight years of development.

It contains a personalized movement, the manually wound 806-component caliber 3761, with a tourbillon, minute repeater, large and small strike and Westminster chime, using five separate gongs. The term Westminster chime refers to the world famous bells of Big Ben, the clock on the British Tower of Parliament in London. Its theme is a four-bar melody played at different frequencies. The notes must be struck in perfect harmony, which requires a high degree of precision and rhythm. A Grande Sonnerie is a watch which strikes the hours and quarters of an hour in passing and repeats the time every quarter. A small bell (small bell) repeats the hours and quarters in passing, without repeating the hours at each quarter. A minute repeater repeats the hours, quarters and minutes on demand. If that sounds like a lot of ringing, please rest assured that the watch can be set to silent mode, which suspends the ringing function.

The tourbillon escapement is constructed to not only compensate for the effects of gravity on the movement, but incorporates a mechanism that keeps the seconds hand stable as it moves around the sub-dial on the face of this very large watch – it is 98mm wide and 32.6mm thick. Each component of the movement is hand finished and decorated according to the rigorous criteria of the hallmark of Geneva.

The visuals are as impressive as the technical ones. The hinged cover on the dial is enameled in a miniature reproduction of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, painted by Swiss enamel artist Anita Porchet, whose fame in the world of watchmaking is equal to that of Vermeer in the world of art. The portrait required seven months of work, spanning two years and including more than 20 bakes. The 18k yellow gold case is also meticulously finished. Each surface is hand-engraved in designs ranging from tulips, pearls and acanthus leaves to a pair of roaring lions, one on either side of the arch surrounding the crown. The engraving and the sculpture took five months of meticulous work.

“This piece was commissioned by a passionate collector who wanted a technically and aesthetically exceptional pocket watch, reflecting the noblest traditions of 18th century fine watchmaking,” explains Christian Selmoni, director of heritage and style at Vacheron Constantin. “He told us that he had long dreamed of having a real Westminster chime pocket watch in his collection, adorned with miniature enamel.

Although the Westminster Sonnerie Tribute to Johannes Vermeer is not the most complicated watch ever designed by Vacheron Constantin – it was the 260th anniversary of the Ref. 57260, which currently bills itself as the most complicated watch in the world – “it is perhaps the most ornate,” says Selmoni.

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