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Backstories: A Trio of Notable Rear Views

Regular readers of International Watch know to find the “Backstory” page appropriately located on the final pages of each print issue. There we feature one particularly awe-inspiring caseback image of a recently debuted watch adjacent to a short description of the movement on display.

Since we began this department several years ago, we’ve heard from more than a few readers who appreciate this backside focus. We know how important that reverse view can be when considering the overall beauty of any watch. And, of course, we are very aware of the work that watchmakers put into creating drool-worthy movement design, construction and finish.

Previously seen only in print, below we’ve reprised three watches as featured in “Backstory” columns from recent issues of International Watch. We hope you’re able to view each of them on a large screen.

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon

View of the Caliber 2160 with peripheral rotor inside the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon.

Launched in both rose gold and platinum at SIHH 2018, the Traditionnelle Tourbillon is Vacheron Constantin’s first automatic tourbillon timepiece. I suppose with a superb manual-wind tourbillon caliber like the Caliber 2260 SQ (with a two-week power reserve) already in the collection, Vacheron Constantin’s incentive to reinvent the (gear) wheel was not strong. But with this launch, four years after that earlier debut, Vacheron Constantin again proves its horological mettle.

You can see the entire back of the Caliber 2160 inside this Traditionnelle Tourbillon because Vacheron Constantin has joined the small number of watch companies that have developed automatic movements wound with peripheral oscillating weights. The technical challenge presented decades ago in various attempts at manufacturing these rotors has apparently been overcome by brands such as Breguet, Audemars Piguet, Cartier, DeWitt and Carl F. Bucherer. It’s good to see that Vacheron Constantin has joined their ranks.

What this 22-karat gold peripheral rotor exposes is a beautifully designed and decorated ultra-slim 188-part movement endowed with an approximately 80-hour power reserve. The movement’s leisurely 2.5 Hz frequency (18,000 bph) allows one to enjoy the to-and-fro of the tourbillon.

And because no standard rotor blocks our view of the caliber’s highly decorated plates and bridges, we can focus on the exceptional level of traditional finishing visible through the sapphire crystal caseback. Note the elegant open-worked tourbillon carriage shaped like a Maltese cross, the shape that serves as an emblem for Vacheron Constantin. The bar of the tourbillon carriage is entirely hand-beveled; an operation the brand says takes almost twelve hours for this component alone.

All this beauty allows the platinum Traditionnelle Tourbillon to simply display the hours and minutes with central hands, while the small seconds appear at 6 o’clock (on the tourbillon) framed by a sandblasted dial bearing the brand’s “Pt950” inscription between 4 and 5 o’clock. Vacheron Constantin is making 25 Traditionnelle Tourbillons with platinum cases and 100 with pink gold cases.

The Essentials:

Case: 41mm x 10.4mm platinum (also in pink gold)

Movement: Caliber 2160, self-winding with peripheral rotor, 31 mm (13½’’’) diameter, 5.65 mm thick, 80 hours of power reserve, 2.5 Hz (18,000 vibrations/hour), 188 components, 30 jewels

Price: $149,000 (platinum) and $118,000 (rose gold)


Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8

The Speedmaster Dark Side Of the Moon Apollo 8 showing Caliber 1869.

Pleasantly surprising many collectors, Omega celebrated Apollo 8’s fiftieth anniversary at Baselworld this year by releasing its newest Dark Side of the Moon timepiece. But instead of primarily focusing on a special case or dial, this year’s edition also draws attention to a special movement, naturally fully visible from the caseback.

This year Omega has placed a blackened and decorated version of the famed Caliber 1861 (derived from the Lemania 1873) into the new Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8. Renamed Caliber 1869 as a tribute to the first moon landing, the hand-wound chronograph movement has been laser treated to decorate the bridges and main plate of the blackened movement, producing realistic imagery of the lunar surface on the front and back of the movement. Omega has thoughtfully skeletonized the dial so the wearer can also view the movement’s lunar landscape from the front.

Just around the movement on the back Omega has engraved the words "We’ll See You on the Other Side,” spoken by Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell on board the Apollo 8 mission at the start of the crew's pioneering orbit to the dark side of the moon. Seconds before the spacecraft disappeared beyond the range of radio contact, Lovell spoke these final assuring words to ground control.

The black zirconium oxide ceramic case itself is now 2.5mm thinner than the earlier automatic Dark Side of the Moon watches because the manual movement requires less space. To contrast with the watch’s dark tone, Omega opts for yellow color accents to echo the look of the Speedmaster Racing collection in 1968. The black and yellow theme extends to the leather strap, which contains a section of yellow rubber through the middle.

The Essentials:

Case: 44.25mm diameter x 13.80mm full black ceramic case, brushed and polished, sapphire crystal on both sides, 50 meters water-resistant

Movement: Manual-wind Omega Caliber 1869 (a black-bridge version of the Caliber 1861 powering hours, minutes, small seconds, 21,600vph frequency, 48-hour power reserve, 12-hour chronograph, with laser ablated and blackened bridges and main plate representing the lunar surface

Price: $9,750


De Bethune DB25 World Traveller

The De Bethune DB25 World Traveller, showing Caliber DB2547

While much was made of the visually arresting dial on this 2016 De Bethune DB25 World Traveller, with its concentric layout, graduated channel and three-dimensional blue steel /pink gold moon, we also enjoy gazing at its inventive backside.

This mechanical caliber DB2547 with manual winding was the 25th caliber designed, manufactured and assembled in-house (utilizing multiple patented techniques) by De Bethune when it debuted. The reverse side of the 455-component movement clearly shows how carefully De Bethune finishes its movements. The idea is to reflect as much ambient light as possible.

To make this happen, De Bethune finishes the majority of the components to a mirror-polish. A number of the parts, whether they are steel or titanium, are also blued, reflecting De Bethune's signature color (note the blue bridge and the rim of the balance wheel, and the leaf spring of the triple shock absorber).

In part, the movement’s visual allure is the expertly finished central delta-shaped bridge, which is embellished with a “Côtes De Bethune" decoration. But even more striking is De Bethune’s own micro-engraving technique called microlight. First the polished plate is hollowed out to become concave, then it’s engraved. This intensifies the reflections of light, much to our delight.

The regulator itself is also of note here, both technically and visually. It is equipped with a new titanium balance wheel with white gold inserts, developed particularly to perfectly manage temperature variations.

De Bethune’s expertise using silicon is clear here with a silicon escapement wheel. As for the regulator, it is completely maintained by a triple ‘pare-chute’ shock-absorbing system exclusive to De Bethune. The partially visible twin barrels accumulate five days of power reserve through a patented self-regulating power mechanism.

The Essentials:

Case: 45mm by 13.7mm white gold

Movement: DB2547 manual winding to indicate local and travel time (GMT), 455 parts, 5-days power reserve, titanium balance wheel with white gold inserts, optimized for temperature differences and air penetration, De Bethune balance-spring with flat terminal curve, silicon escape wheel, triple blue-steel pare-chute shock-absorbing system, 28,800 vibrations per hour, curved mirror-polished steel plate cover, steel barrel bridge cover, mirror-polished and decorated with “De Bethune stripes” enhanced with Microlight decoration, hand-snailed barrels, hand-polished, chamfered steel parts

Price: $150,000