There is a considerable overlap between motoring and horology enthusiasts, with both circles sharing an appreciation for mechanical acuity, tradition and innovation, and design and demeanour. For the client who wants very little, the endpoint of such passions leads to something like this: the Rolls-Royce Amethyst Droptail, an utterly unique one-off commission from the most exclusive marque in the automotive business. And, like any car, it has a dashboard clock—but unlike every other car, this one is a bespoke masterpiece on its own from none other than Vacheron Constantin.
The Droptail is the third in Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ ongoing Coachbuild project, which consists of no-expense-spared, personalised and ambitiously customised vehicles. With a leaner stance and a more streamlined profile that we generally expect to come out of Goodwood—especially when the removable hard-top is in use—it is a strict two-seater and hence the first roadster body style from the brand’s modern history, as the two-door Wraith and Dawn could each seat four. The last time such a format was seen by Rolls-Royce, was in the early 20th century, when the carmaker would supply the completed rolling chassis to coachbuilders who would encase them in specifically commissioned bodies—a bit like how the Swiss watchmaking industry was functioning at the time as well.
Within the Droptail is a new, specially developed architecture consisting of an aluminium, steel, and carbon fibre monocoque. At the front is a twin-turbocharged 6.6-litre V12 engine. It may be channelling some of that early-20th-century spirit, but the Droptail’s design interpretations are quite progressive. For the first time, the iconic Pantheon front grille does not consist of completely straight and upright vanes but instead tapers towards the top to tuck themselves beneath a slight overhang of the bonnet.
The powerful shoulder line is maintained but the contours of the flanks and angular rear are especially athletic. The aft deck section is not only finely veneered in a yacht-inspired way, it is also the largest wood surface ever produced by Rolls-Royce. It is also the first time ever that a wood surface on an automobile has an actual aerodynamic function, as it produces downforce in the way a rear wing might.
Four bespoke vehicles will be created based on the Droptail platform, with the Amethyst Droptail being one of them. Commissioned by a patron whose family business began as a gemstone boutique, the main exterior finish is a soft purple with a silver undertone with an iridescence provided by grains of aluminium powder. A deeper purple on the upper bodywork provides a subtle contrast. The front grille is finished with a mix of polished and brushed finishes for the first time, a suggestion from the client that was a direct inspiration from high watchmaking.
The extensive wood surfaces on the interior and aft deck required a newly developed veneering process, as well as the inspection of more than 100 logs of calamander wood to find just the right hue and banding that would match the leather upholstery. Amethyst gemstones make their appearance in a more subtle cabochon fashion: mounted on the rotary dials and externally around the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
Vacheron Constantin’s contribution is seamlessly embedded in the fascia. The specially developed holder is removable and allows the timepiece to be flipped around—as any horology enthusiast will espouse that the movement is worth admiring from the back. Should the timepiece and holder be removed for display or maintenance, an identical empty holder can be installed so as to leave the fascia’s appearance uninterrupted—and its dedicated storage case is crafted out of the same wood and leather found elsewhere on the vehicle.
The timepiece itself, the Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon, is a unique piece powered by Calibre 1990. It features a bi-retrograde display for hours and minutes, reminiscent of a speedometer. To help facilitate the near-instant jumping of the hours and minutes hands, they are made out of lightweight titanium. The lower half of the timepiece is dominated by an armillary-style multi-axis tourbillon with a cylindrical balance spring supported by a silicon escape wheel and pallet lever with diamond pallets. Hand-wound by the oversized crown at 12 o’clock, Calibre 1990 is the subject of four patents. To perfectly sync with the rest of the Amethyst Droptail, the timepiece is decorated in a matching shade of purple. Most notably, the movement has a coloured NAC galvanic coating, a technique Vacheron Constantin has frequently used, but here in an all-new shade of mauve.
The Les Cabinotiers Armillary Tourbillon is a product of the Les Cabinotiers department, Vacheron Constantin’s notoriously private manufacture-within-a-manufacture that caters to such unusual, bespoke requests. Although Rolls-Royce has worked with other watch manufacturers in recent times, this is the first automotive project for Vacheron Constantin except for one long-archived reference from 1928. “This is the exact purpose of Les Cabinotiers, to really create for our clients unique watches according to their dreams,” says Christian Selmoni, Vacheron Constantin Style & Heritage Director, in a statement.
The client, a long-time patron of the manufacturer, had a singular vision to bring the two houses together. “It was an interesting collaboration, talking about materials, finishing, matching colours and understanding the technical constraints from the Rolls-Royce side and adapting our watchmaking,” he adds, noting that his team very much enjoyed the challenge. “I was really blown away by the level of cooperation and excellence of what has been done for our clients.”