The retrograde display is – in my mind at least – one of the most elegant complications you’ll find on any wristwatch.

Unlike the conventional means of displaying the time by a set of hands rotating around an axis, the retrograde mechanism arcs around only a segment of the dial before retreating backwards to its starting point in one fell swoop.

Its simplicity of form and function belies the technical mastery required to create such an appealing effect.

First brought to fame by the brilliant horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 18th century, it was the watchmaker Vacheron Constantin which made this complication a signature of its maison from the 1930s onwards.

In 1935, a collector named Francisco Martinez Llano, but better known as ‘Don Pancho’, commissioned Vacheron to create a custom minute-repeater that featured a retrograde calendar complication sweeping across the centre of the dial.

It was the first time the maison, or any other for that matter, had received such a request – usually multiple-complication timepieces were the domain of pocket watches – and it took Vacheron a good four years of innovation to fulfil this particularly discerning customer’s demands.

If you were feeling grandiose, you could argue that the Don Pancho watch altered the course of wristwatch history as it opened the doorway for a host of later watches that combined multiple complications in a singular design.

Regardless, the retrograde display has become something of a synonym for Vacheron’s horological street cred; a signpost in its history as one of the great innovators of the watchmaking world.

It seems that Vacheron is planting its flag firmly in the ground this year with three new watches featuring a retrograde complication in three very different guises.

Patrimony Retrograde Day-Date

Vacheron’s Patrimony collection is an exhibition in minimalism, which makes it the perfect place to celebrate the retrograde function – or, in this case, a double retrograde system that features the days of the week at the centre of the dial, and the date across the upper perimeter of the dial.

New for 2023 is this absolutely glorious platinum case and salmon dial combination, made all the more fetching by the contrasting blue steel hands and font utilised both retrograde displays.

This is one of those watches where its beauty only reveals itself to you in person, but the finer details like the external minute-counters made of delicate beads of white gold and the sunburst effect on the salmon dial are what sets this apart.

Overseas Moonphase Retrograde Date

The retrograde complication has never featured in Vacheron’s sporty Overseas collection, but that is about to change thanks to the Overseas Moonphase Retrograde Date.

The date function here sweeps across the upper portion of the dial and comes paired with a moonphase complication at six o’clock that only requires a one-day correction every 122 years.

This timepiece is typical of modern day Vacheron: utilising the skills and knowhow of yesterday to create a contemporary masterpiece.

Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface

If the Patrimony and the Overseas represent the past and present of Vacheron’s offering, the Traditionnelle collection speaks to its future in the form of this technical marvel, featuring an open-face tourbillon in the lower portion of the dial and a retrograde function again below 12 o’clock.

The first Vacheron timepiece to feature a partially openworked dial dates back to 1918, but the design here is about as avant garde as you’ll find in the maison’s ranks. With more than a passing resemblance to the Traditionnelle Twin Beat from 2019, the sapphire dial is paired with a slate grey upper dial on which the retrograde date display is viewed. It’s gorgeous. 

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